Amazon service fail: disturbing

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I’m Until very recently, I was a big fan of amazon. Over the years, I’ve bought pretty much everything on their platform. Even today I’m waiting for a delivery from Amazon: a washing machine. I just checked – my first order on Amazon was on 19 March 2000 (more than 10 years!).

Now over the last few days I tried to order a whole bunch of things for the company we just founded. Most notably, office chairs, computer screens, rolls of magic paper… For all of these, I hadn’t even realized, Amazon had become my default shop. And this is where it gets tricky. I’ve come to a point where I totally rely on Amazon.

Only this time Amazon didn’t work at all.

I set up a new account for our business, placed a number of orders. Our credit cards haven’t been issued yet, so we opted for payment by bank collection. After placing the first round of orders (two screens), we received mail that only credit card would be a legit payment option in this instance. We switched to my co-founder Igor’s private account, same deal. We learned that breaking up the order in smaller chunks below some magic threshold would do the trick, and indeed it did: we could order the screens by splitting up the order into two. Fine, it’d be nice to learn this thing while on the phone with Amazon, but hey, it’s just a call center, right?

I tried to order office chairs – same procedure, only the splitting up wouldn’t work either. Amazon customer service recommended using my private account, I did – and still no shipping. To be fair, I still insisted on the same payment method to keep things simple for our books. (Mixing private and business purchases makes our accountant sad.)

Now it’s not really a problem that a completely automated payment system has hiccups; it’s normal in complex systems like that. However, what’s really quite a problem is when customer service reps can’t help you and instead send you auto-responders like… (translated)…

“We reserve the right to only accept credit card payments.”

Fine, but then just offer credit card as payment option.

“We’re sure you’ll understand that we cannot comment on our internal decisions to protect our trade secrets.”

I’m sure, dear Amazon management, that you will understand that I couldn’t care less about your trade secrets while building a business and trying to send a lot of money your way.

And my favorite:

“Maybe friends or family can help you out with their credit card.”

Seriously, Amazon, WTF?

Side note: Have you ever noticed that there is no easy way of getting in touch with a real person there? Every time you need to follow up the process starts over, tracking number or no. The replies are also, largely, identical, or at least were in this case.

I’m not even going to go down the path of “customer for more than 10 years” any further. I am, however, quite willing to quote the Cluetrain Manifesto, which incidentally was one of the first books I ever ordered on Amazon, back in August 2000. So here are the first 12 out of the original 95 Theses of Cluetrain:

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

As for our orders: the computer screens eventually arrived. I just cancelled most of the rest of those orders for the time being and went somewhere else. I certainly won’t give up on Amazon for good; but maybe it’s time to remind myself that there are other options out there who might be more willing to accept some incoming business.

Update: A few days later, I just tried to order more things. Guess what – our account is frozen. I’m not sure whether I should even make the effort of sorting it our or seriously move away from Amazon for all business-related purchases, even if that would be a major pain. But the time saved by conveniently shopping through Amazon does not, at this point, make up for the efforts of sorting out the issues Amazon is causing.

On a side note, it’s interesting to see that Amazon doesn’t seem to be doing any monitoring online, and it’s comparatively hard to get a customer service rep on the phone or even to a consistent email conversation.

Update: A few lengthy conversations brought out the fact that in one of our private (!) accounts there was an (allegedly – we can’t trace it anymore) open payment (in the range of 30 Euros) from back in 2006 that just now, all of a sudden, triggered some kind of internal automatic lock-down. Never mind that all of us have been buying from Amazon ever since with no trouble of any kind. Also, never mind that that amount was of course transferred right away, more than a week ago with no effect. Our company account, and the private account, stayed locked.

Update: After a few weeks and another round of very unpleasant conversations and even a snarky call center agent I just deleted our company account. Not sure if we just hit a freak bug in the system or if Amazon customer service has gotten dramatically worse. I have a company to build, though, and my time is too valuable to fix Amazon’s problems. File under “sad, but done”.

1 comment

  • Interesting. I had a totally different experience, with the customer service at amazon. I used the “call me back” button, a friendly human being tried to help me. And while talking to him I found the mistake I made. Through running me through the process, he did help me a lot.

    I have no experience what so ever, with setting up a new account. No experience with such big sums of money and amazon.

    but in my experience the callcenter-agent was really trying his best to help. I decided back then, that i would always use this option, as to me it seems to be the fastest way of getting things right with amazon.

    As with every big cooperation – sometimes they fail. and when they do, the fail big time. So I hope, they read your posting and try to optimize things for good.