Small Details, Big Payoff: Being Upfront With Customers

Recently, Blip.tv made some changes to how they handle “Pro Accounts” and their users. Their service is home to many individuals and companies’ who have been storing, displaying, and paying to host their videos with Blip.tv for years. Now Blip.tv has decided that, although they provided this as a service in the past, they no longer want to and have started canceling everyone’s subscriptions.

We changed our minds, we just forgot to tell you.

We suddenly changed our minds, please accept our non-reversible account cancellation as notification.

Did Blip.tv warn customers ahead of time that this major change in policy would be happening? Not that I know of.

Did Blip.tv email their paying “pro” users to let customers know in advance that things were changing things, they should make other arrangements for their content, and that Blip.tv will decide who gets to stay and who gets to go? Not that I know of.

Instead, many users received an out-of-the-blue email from PayPal stating that there was a cancellation of their paid subscription to Blip.tv. It was an automated email from PayPal, so there was no way to tell how or why it had canceled and many people assumed it was their PayPal account that was having issues.

Not only did they not receive clarifying information in their only notification email, there was no direct communication from Blip.tv. (Former) customers had to search Blip.tv’s support section to find this sparse and rudely worded FAQ:

Blip.tv doesn't even want to be 'just friends.'

Blip.tv doesn’t even want to be ‘just friends.’

I had clients come to me in a panic, concerned that all of their videos were going to be lost if they didn’t find a backup system ASAP. They were upset to have been paying Blip.tv, often for years, with no word or expectation from the company that what they were doing was “not what Blip.tv wanted.” The only way these customers could have known was if they had dug deep into the notoriously muddy language of the terms of service.

Next, Blip.tv essentially accused their customers of paying to circumvent their TOS!

How dare you do something you didn't know you were doing!

How dare you do something you didn’t know you were doing!

People in my networks complained that they do, in fact, have what they believe to be a web series, but Blip.tv’s FAQ doesn’t make anything clear. Example: If a customer believes their web series has been removed in error, how can they contest Blip.tv’s decision to remove it?

So while Blip.tv may have thought they were just saving a lot of bandwidth, storage, servers, and time “handling” videos, they’ve actually severely damaged their brand. They failed their customers/users in so many places.

How to discontinue a service and/or adjust customer expectations:

Be upfront with customers/users about upcoming changes that may affect them. Do this in advance, do it across multiple communication channels, and make sure there’s a supportive FAQ (and hopefully customer service rep or twelve) to handle the inevitable questions people will have.

Properly set expectations. Had Blip.tv been more clear to their PAID users about the focus of the service from the beginning, this whole ordeal may have been avoided and frustration with Blip.tv’s brand minimized.

Define your terms. There are a lot of people who don’t really understand what a ‘web series’ is, and with good reason. In this fast-paced, ever-evolving world, definitions shift and change all the time. This means it’s even more important to help your customer understand what it is you as a company do and what they are paying you for.

Provide an appropriate place for feedback. For the customers who don’t understand why their web series doesn’t count as a web series,  or other reasons why their video was rejected, give them a place to ask questions, get feedback, and explore resources for bringing their content up to snuff.

The worst part of this whole ordeal may be how Blip.tv handled their now disenfranchised former customers.

Here we come YouTube and Vimeo!

Here we come YouTube and Vimeo!

These people who previously paid Blip.tv hard-earned money are confused about why their web series isn’t “really” a web series in Blip.tv’s terms, are scrambling to find a new way to handle their previously created videos, are considering how to make their upcoming content count as an official web series, and are soured on your brand. Why in the world would they come back to you with any future products that do fit Blip.tv’s definition of web series when the company so helpfully (sarcasm) suggested some competitors the customer can use instead? They were treated like dirt.

It’s amazing what proper messaging on a sign-up screen, or an email notification to affected users, would have done to mitigate the damage and hard feelings toward Blip.tv. Consider this a cautionary tale to other companies planning discontinuations of products and services in the future.

Onward and upward!
Sheri