The Customer Has Spoken

About a fortnight ago, we received an email from Netflix announcing that in September they would remove Profiles, a feature that allows multiple queues for the same account. For example, in my home my spouse is the primary account holder with the default queue, my kids have their own queue, and I have my own queue. All three queues together count against the number of movies out at a time. Given the widely divergent tastes in movies amongst all of us, the three different queues (or “profiles”) allow us to more easily manage the movies we want to see.

The shamefully vague email announcing the degradation of service said “While it may be disappointing to see Profiles go away, this change will help us continue to improve the Netflix website for all our customers”. Netflix spokesperson Steve Swasey reiterated that asinine position with “the decision will ultimately benefit all Netflix members … we will be able to put more focus and resources site and service improvements that benefit everyone”. As if those who use profiles are somehow preventing those who don’t from using the web site.

To say I was slightly peeved would be a gross understatement. I hate using the telephone but I was angry enough to call their customer support and ask for a better explanation. The poor gal who answered said that it was in response to requests from the users. I have a very hard time believing that anyone actually called to complain that someone else could use multiple profiles. The script she read implied that profiles confused the majority of Netflix users. Again, I find that explanation tenuous at best since you have to specifically activate extra profiles and most Netflix users I know use profiles without confusion.
Two decades of working in the software industry give me a strong hunch about the real impetus behind this horrible decision. This kind of bonehead maneuver has all the hallmarks of someone with strong opinions unencumbered by facts, no objective criteria by which to have their performance measured, and lots and lots of spare time to stump for their pet idea du juor. (Think Ryan’s web site on “The Office”.) Said clown probably concocted the “users demand it” line as justification after the fact. Given the outrage at the proposal, it is obvious that quite a significant percentage of the Netflix users are in favor of profiles.

As I explained to Netflix in the email of complaint I sent, in software (including web site development) the cost for supporting multiples of anything is almost all in the transition from supporting one to supporting many. Since the profiles feature had already been developed, that was a sunk cost; removing profiles would not, and could not, recoup any of the costs of its development. The only thing removing profiles would do is piss off the customers. It would actually cost more to remove it than to leave it in place as removing code is more than just a cut-and-paste exercise. Certainly a company the size of Netflix could afford to hire a web site designer who knows enough CSS to accommodate multiple profiles in their new web site. Heck, they could even dream big and consider using AJAX to present a different web page based on whether or not the person had multiple profiles. The point is that support for multiple profiles is technically feasible and cheaper than removing said support.

Luckily, this idea crumbled under the withering fire of protest from the users. Netflix has relented and will keep profiles. In their email they said “You spoke, and we listened. We are keeping Profiles. Thank you for all the calls and emails telling us how important Profiles are.” This decision is as mindful of the customers as the previous was ignorant of them. Good on ya, Netflix.

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