By Molly Mason, CBO and Certified Brand Strategist

The Good

In my younger years, I spent a fair amount of time wandering around the racks at the video store, picking up plastic rectangle boxes to read the description of the movie it contained and then checking them out to take home and (hopefully!!) bring back by the due date given.

It has not been a characteristic of my life to be an early adopter. I prefer letting other people test things out with their own time and/or money before I invest my own. However, I was an eager early adopter of a little startup that would send me DVDs through the mail and not penalize me for failing to return them on time. Those little red Netflix envelopes floated all around our home for years until we could finally stream it through our computers on our nifty DSL connection. My, those were the days.

For the majority of my adult life, Netflix has been our only form of television. My children have grown up with Netflix. Which is why a recent event was truly memorable for me. It instantly deflated my confidence in and love for their brand. It tore down years of loyalty within the span of 5 minutes. It taught me an extremely valuable lesson on the incredible power brands yield in the minds and hearts of their customers.

The Bad

One evening I was pulling up my account. Suddenly, loud music began playing and an actress’s voice began asking her counterpart very personal and sexual questions – things it would be inappropriate for our kids to hear at their ages and frankly not something I wanted to hear either. I was more than a little irked. These are the questions that ran through my mind:

  • Why would Netflix think I would like this? (If it knows my viewing history, wouldn’t it know that I would not likely watch this type of show?)
  • Why is it auto-playing? Can I change that because it’s annoying no matter what it’s playing.
  • Is this auto-playing on my kids’ accounts? (Again, what about the algorithm?)

The answer? That show was auto-playing on all of our accounts except our youngest – who has a kids account. Through a brief chat with Netflix technical support, I learned that auto-play is a feature I cannot turn off. Further research showed that I was not the only one annoyed by this new feature. A quick internet search revealed articles complaining about the auto play feature for the past year. One writer, Kirk Hamilton, summed it up nicely. “We’re already paying for your service. You don’t need to advertise your own programming to us, and you definitely don’t need to advertise to us in such an aggressive and unavoidable way.”

Since then, I have increasingly noticed that the shows Netflix recommends for me really don’t match my preferences at all. I have begun playing the game of trying to scroll faster than Netflix can auto-play so I can get to our recently watched and continue viewing our new favorite show with no annoying disruptions.

The Ugly

I reflected on what I loved about Netflix and what had changed.

  • It used to understand me. It showed me things I might like based on my history. Promoting their own shows now seems to be more important than helping me discover new shows that might actually fit my taste.
  • I didn’t have to worry about annoying commercials. Now they are showing me annoying previews of shows I would never watch.
  • It was a place my kids could explore within boundaries. Now I have to be concerned that it’s showing my kids things that are inappropriate for their ages.
  • I trusted them and loved them. I am now a skeptic and eager to find a better option.

This experience left me feeling abandoned by a brand I loved and trusted. I am a number. I am a part of their revenue stream. It killed my loyalty faster than any other mistake they could have made. Netflix has made it easy to turn me into a former customer. Instead of touting my love for them to my friends and family, I am more likely to share my growing dislike.

What does this mean for a brand? When other things become more important than understanding, loving, and providing value to their customers, the brand is starting down the path of mediocrity and opening the door to its competitors. It’s easy to take customers away from a service that is annoying. It’s hard to steal customers away from brands they love.

“You are not important. You are not of value to me.” Brands say this every day to their customers. Restaurants say it to their patrons through mediocre service and poor hiring and training practices. The government says it by implementing new systems that promise greater efficiency but really just add ten steps to processes that used to take two (I’m talking to you Michigan Secretary of State Department). Netflix says it through auto-play and recommendations that are not about their customer’s preferences and don’t enhance their experience with the brand.

Put your customers last and they will eventually return the favor.