MoviePass Customer Service Complaints Grow Along With Its Subscriber Base

In fairness, there’s no indication that MoviePass does track people beyond that check-in within 100 yards of a theater. But the misstep underscored that MoviePass hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt from its customers—especially when that sort of broader location tracking is exactly how the company plans to grow, eventually offering discounts not just at movie theaters but at nearby establishments as well.

At some point, MoviePass will do something close to what Lowe described. When it does, it will need to communicate that privacy creep with clarity and precision. Up to now, though, neither of those traits have been the company’s strong suit. Take the removal of 10 AMC theaters in major metropolitan areas from the service, which came without warning in late January, sparking confusion and frustration among subscribers. Or a less widespread incident in which some MoviePass cardholders were unable to buy a ticket to the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller Red Sparrow on opening weekend, part of a round of testing in which MoviePass “double-marketed” the film in some places and made it unavailable in others.

These weren’t backend burnouts or the result of an understaffed customer service department—these were business decisions made by a company navigating one heck of a catch-22: The more customers it has, the more money it loses. It needs to use its newfound leverage to make concessions and marketing deals with theaters and studios before it collapses under the weight of its own success.

“One of the things we need to communicate better is that we’re in 91 percent of theaters, but theaters and showtimes are our inventory. We’re constantly trying to figure out how to deliver a service with incredible value, but at the same time learn how we can get more people into specific films,” Lowe says. “We’ve grown so fast, some of these things are out of whack.”

That pressure seems also to have inspired a sometimes adversarial stance toward its own customers. MoviePass has actively canceled accounts that partake in what it views as fraudulent activity: charging more to the MoviePass card than the company allots for a given showing. That can happen if, say, someone books a ticket through the MoviePass app but puts a 3-D or Imax ticket on their MoviePass card, or purchases two tickets at once on one card, or pays for popcorn, or a host of other misuses, either intentional or benign. The company has even gone so far as to ask customers to take photos of their ticket stubs to prove that they attended the screening they signed up for, and not a more expensive version.

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Lowe says that MoviePass has reinstated 10 percent of banned accounts after finding the movie theater at fault, and describes the request for evidence as a way to help reinstate wrongly canceled customers. But the dynamic that its actions create—guilty until proven innocent—may erode a certain amount of trust between MoviePass and its customers, especially when the company has been ineffective at communicating its bylaws. There’s no benefit of the doubt.

“That sort of puts a wall up between the company and their customer,” says Andrew Rohm, marketing professor at Loyola Marymount University. “It’s easy to say they should err on the side of the customer comes first, but this may be also a factor of the financial pressure the company might face in its business model.”

Talking It Out

The growing pains may be awkward—and actively annoying for the affected MoviePass subscribers—but they don’t seem currently to represent any kind of existential threat to the company. MoviePass continues to broaden its user base, and Lowe cites internal surveys that indicate that the majority of subscribers are perfectly happy, with only six percent giving it a failing grade The TaskUs partnership, too, should alleviate the more quotidian concerns.

Still, continually adjusting what a MoviePass subscription does and does not cover, adjusting levers that leave customers in the lurch—or worse, with a deactivated account—could wind up doing long-term damage, suggests Rohm. “Companies that are scaling really, really fast, like MoviePass, have one chance to make a good impression and retain customers,” he says. “I would imagine the majority of subscribers, they’re going to weigh the frustration costs and the annoyance factor with, ‘is this really worth $10 a month for me given that I already have a Netflix subscription?’ I think that is a significant risk to not only the growth of their subscriber base but their ability to maintain their current base.”

Disgruntled subscribers can at least take some comfort in knowing that while MoviePass will likely continue to adjust its inventory—promoting and disappearing movies and theaters in its urgent search for sustainability—it at least has learned the importance of giving a heads-up. “We need to let people know in advance what we’re doing,” Lowe says. “We need to highlight the terms and conditions in a lot better ways to describe exactly what the terms of service are, so that people don’t get surprised.”

Or, more to the point: so they don’t decide to stay home instead.

MoviePass the Popcorn

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