Tour’s Books Blog

December 8, 2012

Lessons in Annoying Customers Amazon Style

Filed under: Editorial,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:29 pm

OK, how many times have I mentioned Amazon here and their 4-for-3 deals that I use for most of the mass market books I buy?  Many, right?  I’ve often mentioned their quick delivery and ease of use.  But lately things are changing.  And yesterday, they made a huge error with me.

First of all, unless you have a specific order issue, customer service at Amazon is clueless.  Seriously, they fumble around giving these non-answers.  A couple of months ago Amazon began using FedEx Smartpost for many of their deliveries, in particular for pre-orders on new releases.  Given I’m an avid reader, that means once or twice a month I have to go to my mailbox and cart back as many as 10 corrugate cartons of books.  My brilliant Post Office even left them at my garage door where I would have run over them with my car when I backed out because unless I went around the back of the car, I would never have seen them.  Now carrying them near the house was nice, letting them SIT IN THE RAIN RATHER THAN PUT THEM UNDER THE OVERHANG AT MY DOOR, not so much.  Plus, they never even rang the bell to let me know I had packages.  Just two weeks before, UPS made a big delivery in the rain and put all the boxes in a big plastic bag and set it right by my door.

So, I contact Amazon and explain that FedEx Smartpost, while less expensive (why else would they do it?) is not their best idea and explain people who must walk to their mailbox, especially in areas with a lot of bad weather, will have problems.  They said they’d replace any wet books.  Excuse me, but if I slip on the ice getting the crap in and break my hip, will they replace that as well?  Did you miss my saying it wasn’t a good idea in areas with a lot of bad weather?  I even explained I often used a cane due to advanced arthritis in one leg causing stability problems.  Plus last year I broke a wrist.  How many of their customers have various health issues that make carrying large numbers of packages around an issue?  Probably a fair percent.  People who read print books tend to be older.  E-books appeal more to younger people.

OK this was an argument I knew I couldn’t win going in.  They basically don’t care if they inconvenience a % of their customers because they will still keep their profits up.  So, screw those customers who have issues.  A business decision pure and simple. I can understand that even if I don’t like it, though it made me start thinking twice about using them, especially in the winter when walking can be really tricky around here.  But what the heck, I’d deal or stop ordering.

Then came the big surprise.  As you know, I belong to PBS, Paperback Swap.  Now when you look a book up on PBS there is a link in Amazon blue and orange that says ‘Buy from Amazon’ and PBS gets a % of that sale each time a member uses that link.  It’s a great way to pre-order books in a series or by a favorite author.  Now Amazon had (note the use of past tense) a great feature that got me ordering more books, if I clicked through, next to my Prime membership logo at the top, an orange bar would appear and say “Oder Status: You ordered this book on (insert date).  To view the status of this order click here”.  That did two things, I could easily determine if that item was already ordered and two, I could view the order.  Now it would NOT say ‘you ordered this in hardcover’, but I could easily check on that just by clicking on that version of the book.  Even if I ordered a used copy, the feature would tell me that the book had been ordered.

When you pre-order book as much as 9 months out, it’s easy to forget if a specific book has already been ordered.  While it didn’t eliminate accidental duplicates, it greatly reduced them, and in doing so had me more willing to pre-order lots of books.  Well, when that most useful feature disappeared, I was both upset and concerned.  And an epic of Amazon customer service stupidity ensued.

It ended last might – well early this AM with a vain attempt to reach Jeff Bezos to express my frustration and absolute annoyance.  Below is the email I sent (I cleaned up one paragraph because it was 3AM and I got sloppy)

Mr Bezos (or whoever is actually reading this, if it’s even human),

I’ve just had an amazingly frustrating day dealing dealing with your so-called customer service.  After the attitude I got about my comments on your corporate switch to FedExSmartpost, I didn’t have high hopes, but you managed to fall below even my very modest expectations.

As a member of PBS (Paperback Swap), I was looking at books and using the link in PBS to “Buy from Amazon”.  I do this often for yet to be released or recently released books to create my wishlist or create an order.  Imagine my surprise when I linked to Amazon for a title I was fairly sure I had purchased when I didn’t see the bright orange Status line next to Prime  Member designation, didn’t appear.  So just to make sure the site had an issue, I looked up a book I had just received, Trapped by Kevin Hearne.  Lo and behold, no status line that said ‘You ordered this book on (date).  To view this order click here’.  hummmmm  So I checked two more recently received items and …………. no flag that they had been ordered.

Now when you order as many books as I do – hundreds a year – and most of those are on pre-order, I need an easy way to know if a title is already on order.  That is one of the main reasons Amazon is my preferred online book store.  It also is a very handy way to make sure an item I wish to re-order is the one I previously ordered – especially shipping supplies and other such items.   

So, being a reasonable person, I contacted Live Chat (someone calling themselves ‘Brian’ but I seriously doubt that was his name.) didn’t have any idea what I was asking about and told me there was no such feature.  He then went through a description on how I could search my order history.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, I’m going to search my order history for every book I order, I mean, seriously, I have absolutely NOTHING better to do with my time.  I’m sure it’s the same for you.

Less than satisfied with that response, I ask for a customer service call and got someone named ‘Shirley’ – and if she was Shirley, my name is Natasha Kinsky.  Anyway, once I managed to translate her questions, I once again engaged in an exercise in futility in explaining the problem in hopes of getting an intelligent response.  I might not like it, but SOMEONE had to know what happened to that very useful feature.  Once again, my hopes were dashed and I got the description on how to search my order history. 

OK, I get it.  They have only certain scripted responses and not one single clue about what’s REALLY going on.  But I am nothing if not determined, so I send an email.  I mean surely there is intelligent life SOMEWHERE in Amazon.  Alas, my hopes were again dashed.   

My question was very specific.  Narrow, pointed and without any ambiguity.  I’ve even attached the various emails.  The responses get increasingly ‘canned’.  Not one single person said, “We have removed the order status bar and plan to 1 – reinstate by (insert date) or 2 – have no plans to continue that feature.”  Simple straightforward answer.  Did I get that?  No.  The answers were vague, non-specific, never mentioned the ONLY feature I was interested in, just gave me the usual ‘valued customer’ drivel – which is truly meaningless when you DO NOT ANSWER MY QUESTION! 

Now I have a really, REALLY low threshold for companies that do that to good customers.  I have a simple a direct response.  It is attached as a document titled ‘Cancelled Amazon Orders’.   

Amazon is convenient, it provides good delivery service, but lousy customer service, and when you ignore good customers, they find alternatives.  There are other ways to buy books, especially since that edge in sales tax is disappearing.  Yeah, the 4-for-3 is nice, but I end up buying books I have little interest in.  So I can do with less.  A LOT less.  I have hundreds of books I have yet to read and good town library.  Hey, life will go on – with a lot less Amazon in it. 

I hope, if nothing else comes of this, Amazon does two things, educates their customer service reps to the point where they can give intelligent answers without a script, and 2, stop trying to fool customers into thinking they’re speaking with ‘Shirley’ when it’s obviously someone for whom English is a second language and most assuredly NOT named Shirley – she couldn’t even say it without hesitation.  Insulting your customer’s intelligence is not a smart move. 

I will make a point of expressing my dissatisfaction in PBS and include this episode in my book blog.  It should at least entertain some people.


Sincerely annoyed,

How many orders did I cancel? 14.  How many books? 39, a combination of mass market, trade and hardcover that ranged in price from $7.99 to almost $20.  Think about this a moment.  That’s somewhere in the area of $400 in lost orders and probably 2 to 3 times that in future orders.

The two biggest expenses I have are property taxes and health insurance/medical dental costs.  Next is food.  Then books.  Now I do order more than books from Amazon, including very expensive folding chairs, kitchen appliances, and packing materials.  That little ‘you purchased this on ….’ also allowed me to be sure I was reordering what I had bought previously and wanted again.

Do I think my little protest will have any impact on the so-called ‘most customer-centric’ company on Earth?  HA, not a chance.  I am not delusional.  But I did learn something.  Better than half those books I cancelled will never be missed.  Any saving I had thanks to the 4-for-3 promotion was lost in my buying books I didn’t want all that much.  Something to flesh out the order.

Amazon failed miserably in customer service.  They are ill equipped to deal with anything that doesn’t have a stock phrase they can use.  AT NO TIME did any of the people I contacted discuss the specific feature I was questioning.  They even asked for an ORDER NUMBER.  HUH?  This is not about an order, it’s about a site feature.  It was repeatedly running head first into brick wall.  In the end, all I could shake my head in mingled amazement and disgust.  All Amazon had was a stock phrase book of meaningless general platitudes  they did NOT have any answers.  And because they didn’t LISTEN, they lost.  No one, not even one person said, “I don’t know the answer to that, but let me look into it and I will get back to you.”  That was the correct response when presented with a problem you don’t have the answer to.  Anyone who has dealt with technical people in any business knows this.  I had to say it myself more than once.  But at least the customer felt like they weren’t being brushed off, and I DID get answers if at all possible.  I didn’t ignore them, which, bullsh!t aside, Amazon did to me.

So that’s our lesson for today.  Winning customer loyalty takes time.  Losing it can happen in hours.  Customers do get even.  They leave.  They find alternatives.  I was once a loyal Ebay customer, now I’m not.  Hey, Amazon might be the biggest game in booktown, but they do have competitors, and maybe local bookstores will benefit from their failure.  So Amazon has proven to be just like every other big corporation, tone deaf to customers.  Alas, it’s the story of all big business.  Victims of their own success.


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