It would seem like a simple thing: receive a new debit card, and all of the services who are paid through that card make contact, asking for an update since the old card no longer clears. In the past, a letter would be sent, and one or more phone calls later, the new information would take over from the old. Today, however, one assumes it would be far simpler. It is, after all, the age of the Internet.
I recently had this situation come up, and I thought comparing how Netflix and Hulu handle this procedure would be of interest.
First up, Hulu.
I use Hulu through my PS4. As an aside, one of the reasons I bought the PS4 was that Hulu wasn’t working that well on my old Roku or AppleTV. Weird things would happen with the system crashing, or icons not loading into the interface, or weird stoppages while ads were being loaded. Not only did I get a new platform to watch with, but I’m also paying to have ads skipped (well, most of them anyway) in order to avoid freezing, and I’ve even taken the step to go to hard wired ethernet for maximum connection speed, which turns out to be about 100Mbps. By all rights, therefore, Hulu should run flawlessly. Well, it’s a lot better, but it has to be said that icons, the smallest part of the interface, still sometimes don’t load, and the software still crashes. Ugh.
It can be no surprise, therefore, that Hulu’s system for letting you know that your debit card doesn’t work also leaves something to be desired.
The first thing that happens is that you are automatically logged out. I’m not sure why this would be, but apparently once your card can’t be charged, it assumes you no longer want to watch Hulu or use your account. Then, you get an email saying your account has been put on “vacation hold.” What?! I assume they do this because in their database, that’s the only way not to penalize you for non-payment. But it’s very confusing, especially if you’ve ever been hacked in the past. “Who put me on vacation hold?!” is a much different question than “I didn’t pay? Maybe I used the old card on that account.”
Ok, so you don’t know why you’re on vacation hold, because you’ve forgotten about the new debit card. You go to log in on the device. It doesn’t remember your old info, so you have to. Interestingly, when you enter the wrong log in information, instead of telling you, as is the industry standard, that you’ve entered an email address that they don’t have on file, it creates a new account! That’s right, it creates a new account, without telling you, and has a message that says you need to enter a new password. If you thought you were making a new account, that makes sense. But if you thought you were logging into your old account, and think that maybe you accidentally put your account on hold, it’s not any kind of red flag that you’re being asked to do this. Maybe it has something to do with the confusion about your account being on vacation hold.
I only realized my error what I was presented with the standard free Hulu interface, with upsells for paid accounts. I started freaking out, thinking I’d been super hacked until I got the idea that maybe I’d made a new account. A search proved that I was using one of my other old email addresses. Logging out and logging back in with the correct account helped, but led me to have to go on my computer to correct the issue. Once that was done, though, it was smooth sailing.
They sent me an email asking me to update my credit card information, because the card they had didn’t charge through. I made the update. The end.
One of these companies knows how to deal with customers and billing. The other? If it weren’t for the fact they have content I want to watch that I can’t find elsewhere, I’d find that content elsewhere.
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.