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    Tuesday, October 05, 2004

    Defensive design that's too offensive

    I just had a not-so stellar experience with Netflix customer service, which happened coincidentally as I'm reading "Defensive Design for the Web" (How To Improve Error Messages, Help, Forms, and Other Crisis Points).

    I reported to Netflix that I failed to receive Hitchcock's The 39 Steps after it was mailed out on September 25th. They replied:

    "Per your request, your Netflix membership has been cancelled, effective . [sic]

    Please return the following titles by their specified due dates:

    Due Date            Title

    Oct/09/2004   The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Disc 1
    Oct/09/2004   Underworld

    We hope you enjoyed the service and will consider returning some day.

    -Your Friends at Netflix"

    Whoops! I merely reported a missing DVD. I didn't cancel my membership! Strike One.

    So I replied:
    "Ummm...I just reported that I never got The 39 Steps.. and I received a response stating that my account has been successfully cancelled. I didn't cancel though, I only reported a missing DVD. I would like to continue the Netflix service. Please advise."

    I clicked Send and a few moments later I received an "undeliverable" message from Netflix stating that my reply will never make it to the customer service team. They don't allow you to simply respond for further assistance to make matters right. Strike Two.

    Instead I had to visit their online Help, navigate through a bunch of forms, and then report the problem all over again to their customer service team.

    Meanwhile I checked my account at and it seemed that everything was OK and my queue was still active. Regardless, though, I wanted to be doubly sure that they didn't cancel my account. So I awaited their reply.

    A day later, I received their reply. Strike Three? No, not at all. Check it out:
    "Dear Sean,

    Due to a technical problem, you may have received an email indicating your account was cancelled. Please disregard this email as it was sent in error. We sincerely apologize for any confusion this may have caused and assure you that your account is still open and active.

    In the hope of accommodating you for the trouble you have experienced, we have issued a bonus disc voucher for you to use at your convenience. To redeem this voucher, log into your account and access your Rental Queue. Then click the "Use the Bonus Disc" button located at the top of your queue. Please note your bonus disc will be in addition to the movies you normally have out. You will then need to return 2 DVDs to receive the next movie in your queue.

    As always, we look forward to serving your DVD rental needs and thank you for your membership.

    -Your Friends at Netflix"

    Terrific! I really wouldn't have cancelled because of this little mix-up anyway. But, as I said, I wanted to be sure my account wasn't affected. Netflix came through with a very polite response and a freebie movie. Good follow-through customer service and now I can walk away with a positive experience from these folks.