The Business of Customer Self-Service

Part 2: How Netflix & others built companies around it

By    Joe Dyer    Director of Experience Strategy & Insight projekt202

By Joe Dyer
Director of Experience Strategy & Insight
projekt202

Netflix was founded in 1997 as a way to compete with the video rental stores of the world. Even before it became the streaming media giant it is today, though, Netflix was built around a form of customer self-service.

Netflix had well-designed interfaces and customer interactions that virtually eliminated the need to interact with humans. Over time, the web and mobile apps were constantly evolving to keep up with changes to their offering and the ever-growing expectation from customers of a seamless experience.

From the beginning, the consumer was in control. Customers could onboard an account without needing to contact someone from the company. They were experiencing quick time-to-value. Customers entered in their billing information and mailing address from their profile page. They even selected the DVDs they wanted sent while being the vanguard of interaction design.

It was a subscription-based model that didn’t necessarily require the support of a person at the company. In fact, most Netflix customers probably have never interacted with an employee from the company.

Twenty-two years later, Netflix has built itself into a media streaming behemoth. Last year, the company reached $15.8 billion in revenue, a 35 percent increase year over year. Netflix has 139 million paying subscribers located in more than 190 countries.

But as different as Netflix looks today compared to 1997, at its core, it’s really the same exact offering on a more advanced technological level.

Traditional cable providers saw a mass exodus that was driven at least in part by price, but it was also due to an overall better customer experience with these new offerings.

Netflix was able to master customer self-service, understanding the consumer’s desire for it and then harnessing its power in a scalable way. Despite relying on a much more technologically-advanced platform to successfully deliver its service, most customers still don’t ever need to reach out to Netflix for setup or support.

Just like in the beginning, customers can download the Netflix app, or navigate to the pre-loaded app on their smart TVs or streaming devices, to sign up for an account, enter billing information, and start watching from the wide variety of movies, shows and specials available.

And while the company’s success is built upon the recurring subscription revenue model that requires no customer support at all, Netflix doesn’t ignore the fact that its customers might need help from time to time. While Netflix offers a telephone support line and live chat from its website, they also offer on-screen support.

For example, on smart TVs, the Netflix app provides a few helpful support resources that fix most problems customers face - such as a way to check the device’s Internet connection, the ability to reload the Netflix app, and to sign out and sign into the account.

Netflix’s model has been so successful that others have jumped onboard to the media streaming business. Some of the more popular ones are Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, but new competition will be seen in the near future from Disney, which recently announced plans for its Disney+ streaming service.

Cable Gets into the Self-Service Game

The biggest trend in the cable TV world over the last few years has been cord cutting. In response to customers who were weary of paying increasing monthly prices for channels they never watched, companies began offering streaming live TV services. All a customer needed was a high-speed internet connection to get traditional live programming streamed right to the TV.

These live TV streaming services are the essence of customer self-service. Customers just need to navigate to the company’s website, sign up for an account, select the package (or channels) they want, download the app on their TVs or streaming devices, sign in, and start watching.

There is no need to run coax cable wiring to set up new TVs or to move locations of a TV within a house. There is also no need for the old-school cable boxes that each TV needed to watch live TV, and, most importantly, no need to pay a monthly rental fee for each box.

Today, there are many streaming TV services from which to choose, including Sling TV, Hulu With Live TV, PlayStation Vue, Fubo TV, AT&T Watch TV, Philo, YouTube TV and DirecTV Now. All have various plans and features, and some start as low as $15 per month.

Traditional cable providers saw a mass exodus that was driven at least in part by price, but it was also due to an overall better customer experience with these new offerings.

Even when these cord cutters became former cable TV subscribers, though, they didn’t completely cut ties with the cable companies, because most couldn’t. They still needed internet connectivity, and high-speed connectivity at that, from these same cable providers. This gives the cable companies a thread of hope to recapture some of these customers who were leaving and even adjust their own models to build their revenue back up in the future.

Some got the message and are focusing their future around the customer experience and customer self-service. Comcast, for one, has launched its own streaming TV service through its Xfinity brand. Customers can choose between three basic plans for high-speed internet and streaming TV services right from the Xfinity website. And to make the experience driven even more by self-service, customers can choose channels they want to add on top of these packages.

Even Xfinity’s traditional non-streaming services have become more focused on self-service. Customers can pick packages from the website, learning the ins and outs of each package, including every channel the package offers. After a customer is on the site for a few minutes, the Xfinity chatbot pops up on the screen asking customers if they need extra help deciding. It’s this proactive customer self-support that Xfinity hopes will make a difference.

How the cable companies’ changing approach to customer experience and self-service will impact the industry is yet to be seen, but it’s obvious the changing consumer mindset is a major disrupting force.

In part 3 of our customer self-service series, we’ll examine the upcoming trends in customer self-service and what companies should focus on to improve their customer experience for 2019 and beyond.

Missed part 1? Read it now.


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projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software strategy, design and development. We have a unique and established methodology for understanding people in context — we reveal unmet needs — which drives everything we do. This leads to a crisp, clear understanding of the customer, which shapes the design and development of new solutions and experiences. We have the expertise, teams, skills and scale to deliver sophisticated software solutions that improve any and all touchpoints across the user journey.

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