Brian Bailey Preface to the Revised Edition

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I think it's safe to say that Blockbuster Online has a major problem. If we were asked, you and I, to write the Blockbuster Online mission statement, I think we would come up with something like this: To quickly and efficiently deliver DVDs to the homes of our customers. Yeah, that sounds about right. So, if a company regularly fails to fulfill its core mission, would you consider that a major problem?

We have been Blockbuster subscribers for more than a year. Last week, we returned a movie and quickly received an email notice that our next movie had shipped (Wallace & Gromit, by the way). Usually, we would receive the DVD within 2 days. After a week, it still hadn't arrived.

Today, we received an email that Blockbuster had received Wallace & Gromit, a movie that never arrived at our house! How incredibly strange. They shipped us a movie that we never received and apparently it arrived safely back at the warehouse. Meanwhile, we've been waiting over a week for our next movie.

At this point, I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe a neighbor received it and returned it. Perhaps the post office had trouble with the DVD or there was a random, unexplainable glitch in the smooth running Blockbuster machine.

Then I actually read the email.

The confirmation email is the standard, auto-generated email that everyone receives when a DVD is processed. Here is the second paragraph:

If you are receiving this notice without having received the DVD, a shipping error may have occurred. If you still wish to view this movie, please add it once again to your Queue.

Oh my. Blockbuster has a bug so large that every confirmation email that is sent to millions of customers actually includes what amounts to a prominent disclaimer. Obviously, a critical step in the online movie rental experience is commonly being missed - the part where the DVD is actually received and enjoyed by the customer.

Every word in that paragraph is a lesson in how to lose a customer. First, if I received this notice but didn't receive the DVD, a shipping error did occur - that's the definition of a shipping error! I'm not sure that the error needs to be qualified with may have.

Second, if I've just wasted a week waiting for something that apparently is never going to arrive, the solution is to start over and try again? And hope against current evidence that this time it will work?

Third, if I did just experience your complete failure to do what I pay you to do each month, you don't think maybe an apology is in order? Maybe a link to where I can document the bug and provide some details that may help locate and fix it? How about an explanation of what the problem is and what they're doing to make sure it doesn't keep happening to their customers? Maybe even a credit or coupon for the inconvenience?

Nothing. No help, no apology, no sympathy, no proof that anything is being done about it, and no solution other than to try again. Of course, the Blockbuster homepage makes no mention of the problem either.

It brings to mind one of my favorite Seinfeld moments:

Jerry: I don't understand. Do you have my reservation?
Rental Car Agent: We have your reservation, we just ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That's why you have the reservation.
Rental Car Agent: I think I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don't think you do. You see, you know how to take the reservation, you just don't know how to hold the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding. Anybody can just take them.

That's really the most important part of online movie rentals: the delivery. Anybody can just send an email.

Man, that's a great Seinfeld episode. If you don't remember it, you should definitely rent the DVD.