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The end of Netflix’s ‘Surprise Me’ button, explained

360 Magazine 
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The end of Netflix’s ‘Surprise Me’ button, explained

Netflix surprise me button cx

In the end, it was the giant streaming service that was probably more surprised.

About two years ago, when many of us were all still stuck indoors for indefinite periods of time and probably watching a little too much TV, Netflix introduced something that could be seen in customer experience (CX) terms as removing that last little bit of friction: the “Surprise Me” button.

The idea was that, rather than search endlessly for another movie or TV show, Netflix’s algorithm would not only recommend a title but instantly select it and begin playing it for you. Almost like a butler or personal assistant who would know exactly what you were in the mood to watch at any time.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, however, Netflix decided earlier this week to take away the “Surprise Me” button:

The company found that subscribers tend to come to the service with a specific show, movie or genre in mind, undermining the appeal of a function like “Surprise Me,” a spokeswoman said. 

Maybe that’s true, or maybe this is a good example of a CX enhancement that could have been better executed.

I’ve recently noticed that many bookstores and even my local library, for example, have been introducing a concept similar to a “Surprise Me” button. They are wrapping books in plain brown paper, putting them on display and encouraging readers to take a chance on what they might find when they tear the packages open.

There is nothing new about this, of course – it goes back to the days of buying what were called “grab bags” at local fairs and bazaars – but it speaks to the same need that Netflix had noticed.

Sometimes your customers have intent, but lack inspiration.

The usual response to a lack of customer inspiration is curation, which we see on Amazon and almost every other web site. Even if the recommendations are somewhat relevant, however, it’s still up to the customer to review them and decide to take the next step.

Wrapping up books removes that step and turns it into an experience that becomes an adventure in discovery. It’s fun to think about what you might get. The bookstores and libraries took it even further than Netflix, though.

In the examples I’ve seen, librarians and bookstores hand-write some kind of teaser or description to give you a ballpark idea of the package’s contents. At my library, for instance, one wrapped book was labelled by category (Mystery) and had just three tantalizing bullet points:

-Singapore setting

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Another, from the humor category, had “Mistaken identity,” “fake band” and “nerd at heart.”

These books could all have been labelled “Surprise Me” instead. But the clues add to the fun because they create a sort of blank that the customer’s imagination, almost automatically, begins to fill. The experience becomes richer when they find out how close they were to imagining the contents.

Netflix (or another steaming service) could easily use text or images to gamify its CX in this way. The same could happen with apparel, food delivery and many other sectors.

There is often talk about trying to pull off “surprise and delight” in CX. In this case, you can’t just promise a surprise – you have to make the experience of thinking about the surprise delightful, too.

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