Make  magnetic marketing. 

How Netflix Used Psychology to Perfect Its Customer Experience

Jennifer Clinehens

minute read

Click to play


If there's a company that's synonymous with a seamless customer experience, it's Netflix. It has become the defacto entertainment source for many. So much so that 15% of the world's web traffic goes to Netflix.  But when your experience is industry-leading, how do you evolve it without disappointing customers?  The answer lies in experimentation, built on proven psychological principles. 

And because Netflix is a subscription service, they can quickly discover what’s working. Just observe how many customers cancel their service in response to your experiment and optimize from there.


How Netflix Applied Psychology to Its Experience 

1. The Reciprocity Principle

Reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action. It’s why you feel indebted when someone does you a favor. Made famous by Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” Reciprocity can be summed by the saying, “You‘ve got to give to get.”


How does Netflix apply the Reciprocity Principle?

Netflix asked their customer base, “ What one thing would you like to know more about before signing up for Netflix”? The most popular answer (46% of responses) was “knowing all of the movies and TV shows available.” In response, Netflix experimented with showing customers available content on the home page. But their experiment revealed something interesting. Showing customers too much of the content was distracting. Many of them browsed but never signed up.


Failed Experiment: Let customers browse Netflix’s complete catalogue

Netflix Experiment

Source: Netflix

So Netflix redesigned their experiment. Designers still used the Reciprocity Principle, but this time they used an image that hinted at an extensive catalog. But they didn’t let customers browse the whole thing. Giving people a sneak peek — but not the total view — made customers more likely to sign up for a free streaming trial.


Winning Experiment: Give customers a sneak peek of the content

2. Cocktail Party Effect

The Cocktail Party Effect states that people like to focus on information that’s relevant to them. But the Cocktail Party Effect also proves that if we go deeper, relevant content can drive incredible results.

In a recent study, research firm Elastic found the personalization tactics that have a direct effect on buying behavior:

  • 84% of shoppers say personalization already influences their decision to shop with specific brands.
  • 68% of online shoppers have purchased an item they didn't initially intend to when product recommendations were personalized.
  • 88% of customers are more likely to continue shopping on a website that offers a personalized experience.


How to apply the Cocktail Party Effect to your experience

Netflix describes itself as “customer-obsessed” and strives to deliver a totally personalized experience. Their “Because you watched…” category is a prime example of this philosophy in action. More than 80% of Netflix shows customers watched in the last two years have been as a direct result of Netflix’s recommendation engine. Not someone searching for a specific piece of content.

🚀 Unlock the psychological secrets of the

world's biggest brands

Join 7k+ of world's best marketers from brands like Disney, Coca-Cola, Google who are learning marketing psychology in <5 mins a week.

3. Idleness aversion

Recent studies into psychology, happiness, and customer experience have uncovered a principle called “Idleness Aversion.” It states that people are happier when they are busier, even if they’re forced to be busy.


How to apply Idleness Aversion to your experience

To keep people busy, give them information to engage with — animation, gamification, and visuals are ideal. Netflix applies Idleness Aversion in an interesting way. Their experience forces you to watch trailers that auto-play when you dwell on the title.

Netflix autoplay trailers

Source: Flatpanelshd

This feature is a source of frustration for many customers, but the benefits of Idleness Aversion clearly outweighed the costs for Netflix during the years when it was the default experience.

Netflix Autoplay

Source: @ArfMeasures on Twitter

The Bottom Line

In the past decade, the Netflix site has undergone an incredible transformation. These changes and optimization were made possible because of a design culture built on the principles of “test and learn.” Navin Iyengar, Lead Product Designer, described the Netflix testing philosophy this way (source):

“A lot of the UX ideas we have are A/B tested, so we can understand what effect they have on member acquisition or satisfaction around the world. The results of those experiments help keep us focused on the most important things to work on. At the end of the day, we believe A/B testing yields the most reliable information for us to understand what people want out of our service."


It’s clear that a culture of experimentation is critical for psychological principles to be tested and optimized. There’s no magic button you can press to make your brand experiment-driven. It’s a tough process that requires designers to work closely with marketing, product, IT, operations, and other digital teams. But, if implemented correctly, the potential upside is huge. So instead of asking if you should focus on testing, the better question is, “How can we prioritize it?”

Newsletter

🚀 Join 7k+ subscribers who learn marketing psychology in <5 mins a week with the free Choice Hacking newsletter

 Lastest Articles 

 Podcast 

Choice Hacking is now a top 50 management podcast in 35+ countries. Listen & subscribe Spotify, Apple, Youtube

 YouTube 

 Courses & Skills Sessions 

 Books 

 Advertise 

 I can make your marketing magnetic. 

Hello! I'm Jen Clinehens,

Marketing CX Strategist & 

Founder of Choice Hacking. 

I help B2C brands create digital experiences, marketing comms & user research 

 >> Need a personalized project? Get in touch >>  

 ASK A QUESTION 

15 Minutes of Video Messaging

Great if you have a burning question about marketing psychology, customer experience strategy, applied behavioral science or user research.

One-time fee. Price in USD.
Currently booked 2 weeks out.

 HAVE A CONVERSATION 

60 Minutes of 1:2:1 Conversation

Let's dig into your marketing comms, user experience, or customer journey.
I can help you crack a frustrating issue in no time flat.

One-time fee. Price in USD.
Currently booked 4 weeks out.

 GET ONGOING SUPPORT 

Advisory Support

Have a more meaty problem that needs to be solved? You can keep me on retainer for advice, or set me on a tough to crack challenge. 

Advisory Support:

Billed monthly. Cancel anytime. Price in USD.