Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Amazon Can Learn from its Epic Christmas #FAIL

It all started with a gift I had ordered on Amazon on Friday, December 20th. Normally, this late in the game, I would buy something offline; but as I was reading a review on a gift idea on Amazon, I was surprised to learn Amazon GUARANTEED DELIVERY by December 24th still. (Famous last words!) So I ended up buying it on Amazon since I was a Prime member and 2-day shipping was free.

The next day I got my usual "your order has shipped" email, once again GUARANTEEING DELIVERY for Tues, Dec 24th.

Then Dec 24th 8pm arrived and still no package. So I logged into Amazon and tracked the package. I was surprised to learn it would be delayed due to the local carrier and it was now estimating delivery for Thursday Dec 26 by 8pm. I was extremely disappointed that the gift would not arrive in time for Christmas! And surprised Amazon could let this happen. At this point, there wasn't much I could do but wait and break the sad news to a little girl.

On Dec 26th, I learned that my case was not an isolated incident with Amazon. The front page of the Wall Street Journal featured an article on how UPS and retailers, such as Amazon and Kohl's, had botched up delivery of LOTS of Christmas presents at the 11th hour and were offering disappointed customers cash rebates. It wasn't until 9pm that night, when my gift still didn't arrive, that I called Amazon to find out what was going on. When I got a customer service rep on the phone, she told me my package was going to come tomorrow, Friday, Dec 27th by 8pm. I asked what confidence did she have in that estimate when the date had changed twice already. She said if it's not there by Sat, give them a call again. That wasn't a very reassuring answer. I told her I was disappointed that my gift had not arrived on Tuesday, as GUARANTEED. She said sorry and offered to send me a second package and if my first one arrived, I could just return it. That didn't make sense to me since I would then need to waste more time returning an item to Amazon and not likely to get here sooner than my first. It was clear she was working off a call center script and didn't fully grasp the situation here.

These customer interactions are really important moments of truth for companies. A brand is truly tested in such times. It's when business as usual can turn into a PR crisis or a when loyal customer feels valued. And I never fully understood why companies, such as Amazon, outsource such critical functions.

I asked her if she knew I was a Prime member. She did. I asked her if she knew how much I spent on Amazon this year. She didn't. So I told her. Despite spending more than the average Amazon Prime member, all she could say was sorry again. I was really surprised she basically had no resolution or offer that was no different than before I called. After a few more exchanges, she put me on hold and came back on to offer me a 1 month extension on my Prime membership. Wow, I can actually have the privilege to pay Amazon my $79 (full price still) a month later? At best, that may be worth less than $7 prorated. But, really it seemed like zero value since it was not like Amazon was giving me any tangible economic benefit like a cash coupon or promo code. I was insulted at this point and asked to speak to a supervisor. She asked why, which I think made me more upset. Most reps know that it's best to respect the customer's wishes and transfer the call. So I told her that I did not feel like Amazon valued me as a customer. She finally agreed to transfer me.

The supervisor of course said sorry. I told him my situation and how I didn't feel like a valued customer, stating again my Christmas disappointment and how much I spent on Amazon. After more back and forth, he offered me $15 credit on my account, stating this was the best he could do. Really? Because the WSJ article stated Amazon was offering customers $20 gift cards. It wasn't the $5 delta that made me mad, but the fact that I didn't feel like I was being acknowledged as a high value customer. And this offer made me feel like below average. I accepted the offer begrudgingly, realizing this was no longer worth my time and effort.

This experience has made me rethink my relationship with Amazon. Amazon can learn from this gigantic #amazonfail that lit up the Twittersphere.

1. Don't guarantee delivery so close to Christmas. Amazon was a bit overconfident in its logistics and carrier partners. For consumers, don't trust online retailers that promise delivery by the 24th when it's less than a week away. Shop at a local merchant instead. (For you brick-and-mortar retailers with in-store pickup and sophisticated inventory tracking systems, you should exploit this hole in Amazon's armor!)

2. Amazon needs a differentiated user experience based on the value of a customer. Given how data driven Amazon is, this is a no-brainer. A high value customer should have a different and better experience than low value customers. For example, high-value customers should have a prioritized escalation process with a special toll-free number, perhaps with on-shore reps who are fully empowered to do what it takes to ensure these top buyers remain loyal. Best-in-class retailers and financial services firms have been doing this for years! I helped eBay with this years ago. It really should not be a one-size-fits-all experience. (I'm talking about more than using data mining to recommend products on one's Amazon home page.)

3. Email or text alerts as soon as Amazon knows your package will be delayed. Why does Amazon only allow you to sign up for an alert when a package is delivered? Amazon obviously has this tracking info in real-time from its carrier partners. While no one likes to receive such bad news, it's better for companies to proactively communicate with customers to properly manage expectations. Airlines do this with flight alerts when they know flights are delayed. I never fly without setting such alerts any more.


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