Skip to main content

Yes, DVDs. Those little silvery plastic discs. Some remember that DVD-by-mail was the business model Netflix began with, but few of us expected that the 25-year-old company still offered that service. But they did, right up until August, 2023.

That’s when Netflix’s DVD-by-mail subscribers received the following emailed announcement:

netflix announcement screenshot

At first glance, you might be inclined to agree with the happy, smiling lady. But as confusion broke out online, many subscribers had questions about exactly how “Awesome!” this announcement really was.

As a CX leader, take a moment to review the above communication from a customer experience point of view. We all know that putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is CX 101, but in this case, that’s exactly what Netflix failed to do. Can you spot what they missed? What they failed to communicate?

Netflix Learns No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

While Netflix had communicated to subscribers that the DVD-by-mail service would be closing down, the above announcement came as a surprise. While they clearly intended it to be a good surprise, a delightful surprise, the glaring omission turned it instead into a point of confusion. And in the world of CX, confusion is the opposite of delight.

This conversation on Reddit highlights the main point of confusion:

netflix conversation screenshot

Let’s recap the sequence of events:

  1. Netflix announces that their DVD service would be shutting down;
  2. Netflix explains that all DVDs need to be returned by the end of September;
  3. Netflix surprises subscribers saying they might receive up to ten extra DVDs in the mail!
  4. Subscribers get confused and frustrated about whether or not they’ll need to return any DVDs they receive for free.

Eventually, after a week of confusion and lots of media coverage about the confusion, Netflix stepped in with clarification. Perhaps slightly salty clarification given the circumstances and their own role in creating the confusion, but clarification nonetheless:

netflix tweet screenshot

CX Post Mortem: What Netflix Should Have Done Differently

Ok, so for all you CX pros, this one is easy. This was a failure of communication. A failure for which the only antidote is better communication. Specifically, Netflix should have explained in their announcement email that the free DVDs would not need to be returned.

So why didn’t they? We don’t know, but it’s fun to speculate. It could have been a simple oversight. Internally, to Netflix decision-makers, it must have seemed obvious that since the program was shutting down, they wouldn’t be expecting or receiving any returned discs. But where was Netflix’s Customer Experience leader during these conversations? 

Surely their CX lead would have pointed out the problem. Netflix DVD subscribers had spent decades receiving DVDs in the mail and then returning them to Netflix by mail. At this point, the customer journey-map was written in ink. The customer touchpoints were set in stone. Of course the customers were confused when both were upended.

Others speculated that Netflix was simply treading carefully in what could become a legal minefield. Entertainment law attorney Lindsay Spiller told NPR in an interview,

"The filmmakers and property rights owners give Netflix a license, and then they can sub-license it to their subscribers," Spiller said. "But they can't give anybody ownership. They don't have it themselves."

Tough to say and we may never know. It seems Netflix might have delivered one cliffhanger which none of us can binge-watch our way out of. 

Click here to subscribe to The CX Lead’s biweekly newsletter. I promise we’ll never mail you any DVDs.