A Week That Will Live in Customer Experience Infamy


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The week of September 19th through the 23rd is one that will live in customer experience infamy. Few weeks saw as much turmoil and alienation of loyal users/subscribers as this one. I personally lived through three of them, although a fourth was reported by fired-up friends and colleagues. Netflix, Facebook, and Sprint were the three companies in question. One lost my business for good and two are on thin ice. The fourth was United Airlines. I cannot fully comment on United’s frequent flier program since I really don’t consider myself a customer even though I still carry Premier Executive status. You see, I ditched them a year ago because of uncompetitive pricing and the use of too many regional jets. Nevertheless, in an age of increased focus on the customer, these moves are baffling.

The week kicked off with a nice email on Monday, September 19th from Netflix explaining why their pricing is changing and introducing me to Qwikster. The email, from CEO Reed Hastings, explained that they were splitting their services. For $7.99 I could get DVDs via mail from Qwikster or streaming videos for another $7.99 from Netflix. The two services would operate independently, which meant I would need to manage two subscriptions across two websites. In other words, they were making it more difficult for me as their customer to get what I wanted. I can think of few things more frustrating, so I canceled my subscription and kindly filled out their questionnaire explaining why. It wasn’t about price; it was mostly about convenience and selection, the former of which they had just made worse for me as a Netflix customer.

Their position is somewhat understandable. Netflix has made the strategic decision to focus on streaming and is moving boldly in that direction. Their hope is that Qwikster will maintain enough of their traditional customer base to remain profitable while the Netflix brand can be solely dedicated to streaming. The fact that escapes many is why Netflix wouldn’t want to keep things at least somewhat integrated and keep Qwikster service as an add-on, even if movie selections and other account management occurred on another website (with a single login for both). They have already lost over 1 million customers (wait, make that 1 million and one, counting me), it will be interesting to see where both brands go from here.

The next day, Facebook once again made a number of changes to their platform, the primary one being how updates are presented via the News Feed. What’s new are the “Top Stories” which are posts from friends that are somehow deemed more important and are therefore presented first. Apparently, accompanying pictures and the number of comments from other users is what drives a post to “Top Story” status. Below that is the rest of the regular News Feed, presented in chronological order, although Top Stories and the rest of the News Feed are mutually exclusive – meaning there is no way to see all updates, together and in order.

Loyal Facebook’ers found the change un-needed and unnecessary, and a little patronizing and invasive – as if Facebook knows best what should be on top and what is less important. Facebook posted the news of the change on September 20 (yes, even Facebook has a Facebook page) and within a week, over 64,000 comments have been penned. The vast majority of those posts are negative. In fact, I selected a string of updates somewhere in the middle and had to read through 27 comments before I found one that wasn’t strongly negative – the poster simply said he would reserve judgment for another week to see if he got used to it. Some of my favorites were the ones comparing “New Facebook” to “New Coke” (see 1980’s pop culture) and called for a similar fate. However you feel about the new changes, the main question I have still remains: what problem were they solving for?

Just when I thought I was in the clear and the rest of the week would wind down innocuously, Sprint, my wireless provider, informed me they were canceling the Sprint Premier program. That program rewarded long-time loyal customers with things like annual phone upgrades, anniversary gifts, and even surprise rewards they called Just Because Extras (I once was given tickets to a local concert, for example). I probably didn’t get as much as I could have out of the program throughout its tenure, but I did enjoy the notion that I was “Premier” and had the option to do more and get more if I wanted. I felt valued and perhaps a bit important. But, my letter explained, the program was being canceled. It’s as if they forgot the wireless market is fully mature and the national customer base is really only growing with the size of the population. Perhaps they also forgot how switching to another provider is relatively quick, easy, and painless (as long as the current contract period is up). One might think in this kind of environment, Sprint would want to hold tightly to all of its customers, especially the ones who had been loyal and stuck with them through thick and thin. Rather, those of us who used to be “Premier” are now regular customers. What makes me not want to go be a regular customer with someone else?

Yes, it was a rough week indeed for loyal customers and users. So far, this week is going a bit better. No one has made things less convenient, changed their primary tool and interface on me, or canceled my loyalty benefits yet. Ah – but the week is young.

Tim Carrigan
Tim Carrigan, Consulting Vice President at Andrew Reise Consulting, helps clients develop and deliver on their customer experience strategies. He recently co-authored the Customer Experience Fiasco, Learning from the Misguided Adventures of a Customer Experience Executive, now available in hard copy or Kindle version through www.Amazon.com. More information on the book, along with other customer experience case studies and guides, is available at www.AndrewReise.com. Follow Tim on twitter (@timjcarrigan)


  1. Tim, sorry you had such a frustrating week! I don’t blame you for being angry and frustrated by all of the companies you cited. People don’t like change and people especially do not like major changes happening all at once. I’m a big believer in making changes over time and taking baby steps along the way. Too many companies treat their loyal uses as if they had never done business with them before and leave the loyal customer with the impression that they really don’t care or appreciate their business. Thanks for sharing your feelings. You make so many excellent points. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention


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