The Web has given new power to consumers as well as to marketers. The power of Yelp and online protests have been proven time and again as noisy consumers who complain about bad customer service or faulty products win out over corporations. Yet it still surprises me that name brands continue to abuse their customers in the name of greed and expect customers to just accept it.
Netflix is the latest example. If you have been following the Netflix story, you know that Netflix first decided to raise its prices as part of the strategy to monetize its online streaming service, then they announced they were going to split their DVD operation and their streaming service in two with the launch of Qwickster. The customer backlash was substantial. Complaints started rolling in and the blogosphere was abuzz with commentary about Netflix’s insensitivity to its customers and its stupidity. It’s not as though they were the only game in town. Hulu Plus has been gaining momentum and there are other video services available.
Netflix arrogantly was counting on its customer loyalty to see them through.They assumed that the goodwill they had built with their customers gave them the right to abuse that customer loyalty.
Clearly, Netflix is not Apple. They don’t command the same rabid customer loyalty, but they also don’t offer the same level of customer service or the same level of innovation. Apple has build a trusted relationship with their customers. They have created a unique and consistent customer experience, and they keep their customers well informed about product changes and innovations, usually with a lot of fanfare and support.
Which brings me to Comcast. In my household we have been having a challenging experience with Comcast Internet access over the past week. Comcast has an anti-virus service they are touting called Constant Guard, a malware security suite from Xfinity. This apparently is a free package offered to Comcast subscribers, but instead of promoting it through conventional opt-in marketing, Comcast is using malware marketing to force customers to adopt it. Comcast apparently monitors virus activity on computers connected to their network, whether you want them to our not and no matter what anti-virus software you use. And when Comcast sees a preset level of malware attacks, they hit you with their own popup that says your computer is infected with a bot. The popup requires you to make several clicks to a customer service center to deactivate it.
We have four computers in our family, including both Macs and PCs, and they are protected by different anti-virus packages. We have all experienced this malware marketing program from Comcast, and we have all had issues getting rid of their popup. At first, we were naturally suspicious and assumed this was a malware attack, but after a couple of calls to a bewildered support team we finally found a representative at Comcast who admitted, “Yep, it’s ours.” In fact, we received a very empathetic call back from the regional customer service executive, who also seemed baffled and filed a trouble ticket. Ultimately, we received a call from another service rep who basically told us, “Yeah, it’s ours, We have uncovered tens of thousands of attacks on your computer. If you want it all to go away, just download our free software. And by the way, we are perfectly within our rights to do this so get over yourself” (or words to that effect).
So this is how Comcast is selling its triple-play strategy, although I think it’s more like three strikes and you’re out. Comcast wants to force you to use their anti-virus solution, whether you want it or not. (I also should note that a scan of all the computers turned up no evidence of a problem, so clearly whatever protection we have in place seems to be working.)
Let’s hope this is not a harbinger of things to come. Consumers should always have a choice as to what services they want to buy and what price they are willing to pay. There are times when even free looks too expensive.