Over at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington wrote about Flickr’s “hostage taking” of photos business model saying that he would never use them [again] unless they release his photo hostages. You see, if you’re a Flickr Pro user, you can upload as many photos as you want. But if you decide to not renew your Pro subscription, then your account will revert back to a standard account and your Flickr photo listing will only show the 200 most recent photos.
Mike makes the point that Flickr has the photos, but won’t let a user have them, without re-activating the Pro account and he went on to say that although users in this situation might renew in order to retrieve their photo(s), they won’t be happy customers given the circumstances under which they renewed.
Normally, I’d leave a comment on a post when I feel strongly about something, but today I felt extra strong. I felt for Mike as a customer of Flickr and I felt for Flickr as well. In the comments of the post, I’d say the majority of the commenters felt that Mike was being unreasonable about his expectations of Flickr.
On the outset, I completely understand Flickr’s policy. They have a paid service and they’re pretty clear about what they offer and don’t offer in the Flickr Pro TOS.
On the other hand, Mike didn’t renew his account.
His reasons were that he probably missed the email, or his credit card number changed. Mike’s impression was that he still had his Pro account (at least, that’s how I felt after reading the article) and so he was unhappy after learning he did not and Flickr wouldn’t give him his photo.
I’m a bit confused about why Mike, under the impression that he had a Pro account didn’t just have renew when he learned he didn’t, but my guess is that it was based on principle at this point (he can correct me if I’m wrong).
You can’t argue with a user about how they ‘feel’
I learned this while dating.
When your user tells you how they ‘feel’, it doesn’t do any good to tell them they’re wrong. In fact, while I think Mike’s expectations are unreasonable in this situation (sorry Mike), that doesn’t mean Yahoo / Flickr can carry on as if nothing has happened. They have a former subscriber telling them how he feels and regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s a mistake to not explorer this further, especially if other users echo these sentiments.
So what could Flickr have done differently?
This is a tough one and I’m sure the guys at Flickr have struggled over what to do already. I can’t pretend to have the answer after thinking on it for 30 minutes.
One option would be to completely remove a user’s photos. This would eliminate Mike’s “hostage taking scenario”. But I’d bet the majority of the users don’t want that. People make mistakes and forget to renew all the time. I’d be willing to bet Mike was even a little bit grateful that his photo was saved.
Flickr probably could have done more to warn Mike about the consequences ahead of time before his account expired. I’ve had my Pro account expire before and although I received a couple of emails, I don’t remember them being very action oriented. You know who’s got a great warning? The guys over at Backblaze. Man, they sent me a crazy number of warnings (at least once a day) to tell me they were about to purge my data from their backups.
I think situations like this are an important case study for those of us trying to offer world-class service. Build your service with the best policies in place, but don’t stop there. When a user complains about how they feel toward your service, try to understand what you can do to mitigate those feelings from future interactions with your customer base.
Photo credit: Flickr/Bill Z