Soft Underbellies

    April 17, 2006

Tim Manners writes about the “vulnerable soft underbellies” of Apple and NetFlix in a recent Fast Company article.

Apple won’t let us do what is ultimately the most important thing. It won’t let us easily change the damn battery when it dies… This is not the stuff of which undying customer loyalty is made. They have needlessly left themselves vulnerable to any competitor able to design something of comparable aesthetics and smart enough to let the consumer have life-and-death control over its battery.

The famous Netflix promise is that you can rent as many movies as you want each month for a flat fee. Well, not exactly. Netflix recently acknowledged that it slows down the rate at which it fills the orders of its heaviest users, a practice critics call “throttling.”… As with Apple, it took a class-action lawsuit before Netflix would publicly acknowledge that it is giving preferential treatment to its newest — and least loyal — customers.

A strategy that punishes one’s most loyal consumers is hardly sustainable.

There are so many examples of this. In the wireline telecom world, service providers promote a low per-line rate while adding special surcharges that almost double the advertised price. Consumer electronics are made to last only for the life of the one-year warranty. Wireless and cable providers give special discounts and promotions only to new customers, not to existing ones. Software companies like Symantec offer frustrated virus-infected customers no way to reach a live customer service rep without paying $40 to $70 for the call (which is why I ditched their software).

What is your company doing to sabotage its success with customers? Do you even know the areas where customers are frustrated and may cause them to jump ship? Are you willing to break away from “industry-accepted practices” in order to give customers a more desirable experience?


BTW (shameless self-promotion plug here), we’ve got a pretty cool online customer dashboard where our clients can measure the gap between what’s really important to customers and their satisfaction level with each attribute… then track progress in closing those gaps over time. It’s a great way of identifying your vulnerable spots from your customers’ perspectives. Ping me at jrice at if you’d like to know more.

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Jennifer Rice is the founder of Mantra Brand Communication. She has extensive experience in brand/marketing strategy, market/customer research, integrated marketing communications and channel support.

Jennifer also writes theWhat’s Your Brand Mantra? blog which offers musings on branding, marketing and the ecology of business.