I got an email this week.
It was from Netflix.
They were reminding me that my free month was about to run out.
It is the first time I have ever received a communication to warn me of an impending charge as the freebie was about to expire.
It reminded me of my first experience with an internet provider in the late 90s. When you buy your first property, you make many mistakes that cost you money - some big, some small. For me, back then, one of the important decisions was an internet provider. That, of course, was going to help me research other purchases as I furnished my first home.
I needed a quick solution and, at that time, AOL offered a free trial via a disc that was dropped through your door. I was signed up to 54k dial-up, the type that prevented you making phone calls. Pictures downloaded in jerky blocks while downloading music was laborious, error-strewn but gloriously illegal. These days even the dial-up noise sounds so nostalgic that someone put it on YouTube… and it has amassed 7m views.
My service was average, even for that time, so I looked to switch before my free trial ended. But, shock horror, there was no easy way to communicate with AOL so, after a few attempts on a few nights, I dithered and it slipped my mind.
The first payment went through.
I was incandescent.
I got nowhere.
I did not have a leg stand on.
It was a simple case of a service provider relying on the customer’s inertia, incompetence or laziness. It worked and, rightly or wrongly, I felt ‘done’.
I vowed never to spend a penny with AOL again, and I never have. Since then their problems have been a minor amusement, although, in fairness, they have morphed into a media company with some success.
This is not a missive on AOL, plenty of providers were doing the same at that time.
It is more about the Netflix email and how attitudes have changed with regard to customer retention.
You just can’t chisel people anymore. The short-term success of such tactics will be consumed by the negative influence of word of mouth, either in real life or on social media. So many of us now weigh up our purchasing decisions via customer reviews. It is perceived to be the best method if there is enough weight of support, although hardly scientific and is still open to massive manipulation.
I still get ‘done’ but less often.
(It also worries me that I continually spend more time researching iPhone cases than my new mortgage but I digress.)
The deluge of positivity about Breaking Bad led me to sign up to Netflix again a few years ago. I binge-watched the show during a month’s trial and then, lazily, let the subscription continue. There was no reminder email but this time it was deliberate and in full knowledge. I cancelled when I moved to the US.
Long periods of work in Indonesia and a lack of cable in my AirBnB, led me to sign up a month ago. Via a different email I snaffled my free month and breezed through Master of None (it’s 8/10) but tried and failed with Black Mirror (5/10).
That reminder email caused me to cancel once more and so currently, I don’t subscribe to Netflix. But its very existence, plus the excellent content blend (often data-led) and go-on-just-one-more interface, mean I’ll be back.
That email gave me more faith in the brand and, if I see enough value in the product, I’ll sign on again.
Paying this time.