I am one of those extremely happy Netflix subscribers (The Art of Service). I recommend them to everyone and wouldn't think of moving to Blockbuster, though it solicits me constantly. But who cares? I love Netflix's service, the one-day delivery, and especially the "save for the future" options. I mean, how cool is that? A new movie comes out. I see a commercial for it. I go to Netflix and reserve it for the future DVD release. That beats trying to rack my brain for movies that came out last December that I wanted to look for in DVD now!
Lake Worth, Florida
As a self-described Netflix "missionary," I was beside myself to see its praises lauded in your October issue. As a resident of coastal Mississippi, I was affected by Hurricane Katrina. We lost electricity, water, Internet (which proved more painful than no air-conditioning and water!), and the U.S. Postal Service. When I could access email, Netflix had a note waiting in my inbox letting me know that it was aware of my mail interruption and not only had it temporarily "paused" my shipments until things were back on track, but my next month's subscription would be free. Talk about going above and beyond. This company has changed the way I watch movies, and it's done so by putting me first.
Bravo to Netflix for its technical achievement, but it has much to learn about the full customer experience. When I first learned about Netflix, I immediately signed up. One time, I didn't receive a DVD that Netflix had shipped to me, and when I pointed it out via email, the gist of the reply was, "Okay, but we're watching you from now on." I don't need to have my integrity questioned, so I closed my Netflix account and took my business to Blockbuster. I pay less and have never had to suffer such a warning. Listen up, Netflix: You need to love your customers as much as you love your technology.
San Francisco, California
Unbelievable. Best Buy makes your list of "customer-centered grand masters"? Occasionally I find myself subjected to the retail nightmare that is Best Buy for reasons, I can only presume, of my own consumer masochism. I find the entire Best Buy experience to be the very definition of customer abuse, not customer service, from the always-cacophonous stores to the know-less-than-nothing sales associates and omnipresent, woefully understaffed checkout lines.
What Best Buy has accomplished is creating a remarkably sophisticated, very efficient system dedicated to creating the surface appearance of customer-centricity, while in reality remaining as unresponsive, impenetrable, and clueless regarding the real needs of its customers as even the most backward bank, supermarket, or car dealer. It never fails to astound me that most business books' and publications' lists of "excellent" or "customer-centric" retail companies pretty much mirror my own personal list of the most miserable, infuriating, inept, and unresponsive places to consume. Yours turns out to be no exception.
I have to wonder if Netflix is getting just a little too big for its boots. Despite the glowing reports of customer service in your article, there are some of us out here who beg to differ. Since I became a Netflix customer five years ago, I've loved it like it was my own child. I've probably recommended 30 people over the years. But recently I had a dispute over how Netflix surreptitiously moves longtime customers like me, who are grandfathered on "old" subscription deals, to a lesser service for the same amount of money. As your article highlights, finding a customer-service phone number is like searching for hen's teeth. And if you bother to write a snail mail letter of complaint to the head office (also an impossible address to find), as I did, at best you'll get a form letter that was identical to the one I received for my email inquiries. Someone, please, tell me how this constitutes great customer service.
Whole Foods' stores are out of the way, expensive, poorly managed, and with less than pristine fish and produce. Call it whatever you want, but shopping at Whole Foods leaves me, and my wallet, feeling a bit more than half empty.
James E. Mason
Las Vegas, Nevada
Your Customers First package surprised me when Wal-Mart was listed in the "customers last" segment. I experienced the exact opposite. I'm not a Wal-Mart shopper, but my son, Wayne, managed a family business in Earlville, Illinois, and part of his routine included a weekly visit to Wal-Mart for supplies. He'd also visit the camera and personal-hygiene departments for himself. Wayne was diagnosed with a terminal illness in May, and at that time it was decided to help him adhere to his usual activities as closely as possible. This included a Tuesday drive to Wal-Mart in Ottawa or Plano, Illinois. Although he continued to became more haggard and emaciated and his ambulation and dexterity rapidly deteriorated, Wal-Mart employees always treated him with courtesy and assistance. The cashiers always waited patiently as he slowly removed bills from his wallet and counted out the exact change. I can't believe that Wayne was singled out for the first-rate service. I'm more inclined to accept it as the norm.
Marilyn C. Urso
Finally, Sprint PCS gets nailed in Customers Last. Their conscientiously persistent poor service has bedeviled me for two years. Perhaps they should rebrand the PCS to stand for poor customer service.
Thank you for Danielle Sacks's valuable and long overdue portrayal of the advertising paradigm set forth by Naked Communications, the brash Brits featured in "Is the Advertising Industry Ready to Go Naked?" (October). As an actor who has stumbled into the business world, I know immediately when I walk onto a stage if the script I'm working with serves an audience. Either people cough and fall asleep, or their engaged energy allows for the magical catharsis of souls united across the footlights. I know I have to be alive in the moment onstage and effectively communicate with my partners or I'm phoning in my performance and the scene falls flat. Here's hoping this call from across the pond rouses the advertising masses from their complacency and laurel resting and compels them to truly listen to their customers and end users to deliver honest messages with value-added content.
John C. Havens
Maplewood, New Jersey
Embracing the True Meaning of Green
"What Does Green Mean?" (October) makes a timely point to the design community, although the article could have benefited from including a comment from the U.S. Green Building Council, which is certainly aware that its environmental rating systems aren't a final definition or description of "green." The council's LEED checklist has raised awareness and gained traction because it offers measurable steps toward greener building, taking the eco-dialogue out of the purely theoretical and political realm and putting tools in the hands of architects, designers, and construction managers. At the same time, evaluation of what makes a project environmentally friendly must shift from exclusively materials-based measurements (reduction of construction waste, use of recycled materials) to include the full life cycle of the project. In the same way that the waste generated by a building doesn't end with the ribbon-cutting ceremony, it doesn't begin with groundbreaking, but with waste created by the design process.
Dr. Sulkowicz ("The Corporate Shrink") gave bad advice to the passed-over executive in the October issue. The advice should have been: "As in tennis, hop the net, extend a hand, and welcome the new successor with genuine grace. If this person is good for the company, the company will grow and opportunities will abound. Everyone will remember the poise, grace, and generosity with which you kept the team spirit, and thus the company, together."
Cheryl Anne Woodward
A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.