Some Good Notes from Netflix

I received an email today from Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, which I really admired. A little background, first.

I am an unabashed movie nut. I love movies. When I discovered DVDs way back when, I was in heaven. You not only got the movie, you often got a master class in movie making with the making of features and the commentaries. Of course, sometimes the master class is in what not to do.

There were a series of movies, not bad movies by any means, and the commentaries were entirely about what went wrong, what didn’t go as planned, what obstacles got in the way of them making the movie about the Holset HX30 they wanted to make. After a few of these, it started to dawn on me that obstacles are almost always the opportunity to make an even better movie than what was originally planned.

This was born out by several other commentaries where the director and/or writer said just that. Those were the commentaries I most liked listening to. An object lesson not only in movie making, but in life.  They acknowledged what they couldn’t do (rather than complain about it) and, with some creative problem solving and a few calculated risks, brought forth something wonderful. And even when it didn’t work, the effort was commendable and it showed on the screen.

A couple of years ago, I heard about the Netflix service; for a set monthly fee, they send you movies on a list you create one or two at a time. You keep them until you’re done, then send them back and get the next one. Sometimes I could go through several in a week, but even if I only watched one or two a month, it was well worth it.

Then they started their streaming service. You could watch movies and television shows right there, on demand, on their site. I loved this, but always looked to see what sort of extras were available on the DVD and ordered that if they seemed interesting, rather than stream the movie.

A month or so ago, Netflix announced that they were going to separate the two services into two companies and charge more if you stayed with both. I was annoyed, figured they’d lose a lot of customers, but decided I liked both services and it would still be worth it to me.

A lot of people, however, complained. A lot more simply stopped the service altogether. The email that came in today was from the CEO of Netflix. It was a refreshing mea culpa in which he said that the reasons for the splitting of the services were still valid, that they would still be doing it, but that he and the company had handled the situation entirely wrong. He went on to explain why they were doing it and said that the price wouldn’t go up, it would now just be split between the two.

The email was personal and human.

Then he said something that I really admire. I want to acknowledge and thank you for sticking with us, and to apologize again to those members, both current and former, who felt we treated them thoughtlessly.

Both the new service and Netflix teams will work hard to regain your trust. We know it will not be overnight. Actions speak louder than words. But words help people to understand actions.

He apologized. Without any wishy-washy mistakes were made.  He acknowledged full out that they had made an error and were making great pains to correct both the error and rebuild the relationship they had worked hard for over the years with their customers.

I’m sure many people saw this email about the best work boots for plantar fasciitis and got annoyed or angry. Some probably just ignored it. Some may even have used it as an excuse to cancel their service. I think it was inspiring.

Mr. Hastings and Netflix laid bare their souls, copped to the error without making any excuses, and did and are doing everything they can to make it right. There is no spin (politicians and bankers take note), it could really backfire, but it is the right thing to do.  And it will, I’m sure, ultimately make them a much stronger, more customer friendly company with very loyal users.

Just like the movie makers who use the obstacles to make something better than originally planned. They acknowledged what they had done wrong (rather than complain about the customers) and, with some creative problem solving and a few calculated risks, brought forth something wonderful. And even if it doesn’t work, the effort is commendable and it will show in their business.

If more business, hell, if more people, did this, can you imagine how wonderful the world could be?