The secret to getting Amazon’s best customer service

There’s a classic tech industry joke. A jet is lost in dense fog and low on fuel. The pilot, desperate to get his bearings, winds up circling an IBM skyscraper. “Where am I?” he shouts to the white-shirted nerds inside. They grab calculators, computers and furiously get to work, finally providing what they consider the critical answer to the anxious aviator: “You’re in an airplane!”

frankcatalano

Frank Catalano

Totally responsive, totally accurate – yet totally useless. And a neat summation of almost all of my recent pre-holiday customer service experience with Amazon. But the key word here is “almost.”

It started innocently enough. I needed a case for a new Kindle Fire HDX. I really liked one of them, especially since the product description stated, “We also include a screen protector so that your Fire HDX 7″ 7.0 Inch Tablet will be completely protected.”

When the case arrived two days later from a third-party seller fulfilled by Amazon, there was no screen protector. I used the Contact Us email option for the order, pointed out there was no screen protector in the shipment, and so either the description was wrong and needed to be fixed or I should be sent a screen protector.

“I’m sorry the screen protector was not included in the package. This usually does not happen,” Puneeth responded. “I request you to order any one of the following screen protectors using Two-Day shipping and write back to us with the order number so that we can make sure the order total is zero.” Two very specific product links were included.

The order that began the dive down the rabbit hole

The order that began the dive down the rabbit hole

Cool, I thought, what great service. And I ordered from one of those links, emailing back the order number.

“I’m sorry,” came Ranjith’s reply. “We can not waive off item cost on seller items that are fulfilled by Amazon.” Instead, he said he’d upgraded me to one-day shipping, offered a full refund once the protector arrived, and, “for the inconvenience this has caused, I’ve issued a $10.00 promotional certificate to your Amazon.com account.”

That seemed more than fair, I thought, though I was puzzled why the first customer service rep would specifically direct me to order products Amazon itself couldn’t zero total. I asked, and instead of getting a direct answer was told by Sujana, very politely, to “please be patient” and let them know as soon as the order arrives.

One day. Two days. Three days. Uh oh.

“I’m sorry this package never arrived,” wrote Logesh. “I’ve requested a full refund … to your original payment method. We can’t replace items … that are fulfilled by Amazon.”

Aargh, I mouthed silently. Maybe, just maybe, it was merely hung up in transit. Perhaps I just needed to initiate Real-Time Synchronous Vocal Interaction. Or, as my ancestors called it, Talking To Someone.

Click, click, click went the mousie as I explored the Amazon site, eventually settling upon the obvious path of Your Account: Your Orders: Help: Contact Us: Log In: Choose a Different Order: Tell Us More About Your Issue: Phone/Call Us: Enter Your Number: Call Me Now.

Twenty seconds later, Kristine phoned and had me repeat the order number. I asked about the missing package. She quickly told me it was “still in transit.” I re-described the situation and she promptly offered me a refund. When I gently mentioned I had already been given a refund – as had been noted on the order she’d just looked up – she said, after another VoIP delay, that she had no more information. And clearly, though politely, needed to be efficient and wrap up the conversation.

I appeared out of options. Yet one remained that was wonderfully, circularly appropriate.

I picked up my new Kindle Fire HDX and, even though it’s described as for “tech support,” I pressed the Mayday button, taking advantage of a new feature in Amazon’s latest Kindle Fire tablets.

Tiny Tech Advisors assist inside the HDX

Tiny Tech Advisors assist inside the HDX

Josh appeared within 20 seconds in a small video window in the bottom right of my HDX’s screen. “Amazon Tech Advisor,” it read. In my meekest I-spent-my-childhood-coloring-inside-the-lines voice, I began, “I know this is probably something you can’t help me with, because it’s not a technical issue …”

But he surprised me. He said he could probably help me, and really tried. He listened carefully to everything I’d done, the rapid one-off responses I’d received, and the fact that none of the actions other customer service reps had taken had actually solved the problem. He checked into a number of possibilities and attempted to ascertain directly with the shipping firm where the product was. He shared a couple of working hypotheses which led to the conclusion, “I think it might have gotten misplaced or something.”

At the end of ten minutes, feeling a bit guilty for wasting his time and not asking for anything else (I did get the $10 promo credit earlier, which I thought fair compensation for the missing screen protector), I signed off.

Had the many other responses by phone and email been prompt? Yes. Had they done everything to minimize the dollar downside? Yes.

But had they actually listened and tried to resolve the issue? Not until Josh answered my Mayday.

In the days after, the Amazon-fulfilled seller removed any reference in the product description to a screen protector. And I still don’t have one for my HDX.

Yet thanks to Josh and the Mayday button, at least I feel pretty good about my answer. And also now know to advise others who want to get the best Amazon customer service: Buy a Kindle Fire HDX and press “Mayday.”

Frank Catalano (@FrankCatalano) is a strategist, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose regular GeekWire columns take a practical nerd’s approach to tech. See the column archive. Yes, he knows there’s more to the pilot joke. And yes, he knows there are many variations, including some that mention Microsoft. So don’t write in.

  • Stop the intitlement mentality

    Just like when companies first started paying attention to twitter, customer service via that channel was very high, now try to get a company to care or even respond to a twitter post and only a few do and not at the level previously seen. Soon enough, once the novelty wears off, Amazon will start eying the higher salaries for the mayday folks and lower quality service will ensue.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      … Or, perhaps, priority Mayday customer service will become a Prime-only benefit. I understand your point completely and I agree to a large extent. But I don’t ever want to underestimate Bezos, either.

  • Guest

    Why do you need a screen protector anyway, Frank? Devices with Gorilla Glass can withstand house keys scratching their faces.

    I know the product you ordered was meant to include one, and that’s the issue here, but really, do yourself a favour and kick the screen-prot habit. Screens can protect themselves just fine nowadays — a $10 piece of plastic isn’t going to help you.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      I came around to your conclusion after my drawn-out customer service saga. The case I purchased actually completely protects the screen when closed, and if I slip it out of the case, it usually goes into a Kindle zipper case that has internal cushioning. So this Fire wlll keep its native face.

  • http://www.puzzazz.com/ Roy Leban

    I just had a similar frustrating experience with Amazon. I wanted to buy a Griffin Technology PowerJolt Dual USB car charger. I have one in one car and it’s great. I wanted to buy a second one for the other car.

    The prices on Amazon are good, too good, in fact. Apparently, they are all counterfeit. I tried my best to order the one that seemed like it was least likely to be counterfeit, but no luck. It looked funny, did not match the other one I have, and came in weird generic packaging that didn’t even fit properly, not the Griffin box that my first one had come in.

    Amazon was nice in that they refunded my money and didn’t make me send back the counterfeit one (I threw it away). But it was “fulfilled by Amazon” and they said there was no way for them to replace it and absolutely no way for them to guarantee that I could order a real one from them. It amazes me that Amazon is willing to stock items in their warehouses that are counterfeit. And especially an item like chargers — several people have been killed by defective counterfeit chargers.

    My guess is even a Kindle HDX wouldn’t have helped me buy a real charger from Amazon.

    Postscript: I ordered the charger direct from Griffin, paying full retail (which I was willing to pay to Amazon), but I had to pay shipping, which I wouldn’t have had to with my Prime membership.

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Roy, I think “fulfilled by Amazon” — which I once used to trust — is a potential snake pit. I wrote a column two years ago about my experiences, similar to yours, of getting counterfeit printer cartridges and even vacuum filters (“When Amazon Can’t Be Trusted” http://www.geekwire.com/2011/practical-nerd-amazon-trusted/). Sorry to hear it’s still going on.

      It also is partly why I was mystified that the customer service rep would steer me to order a replacement screen saver that was “fulfilled by Amazon” and not “sold by Amazon.”

      Re-reading my column from 2011, even then Amazon’s customer service was unfailingly polite and prompt and was more than happy to refund my money and give me promotional credits. But I still never received, from Amazon itself, what I wanted to actually buy.

      The only difference this time was the real-time Mayday interaction, which was admittedly great. But the result was the same, even though I took no financial hit. So Amazon gets an A for effort, but only for that.

    • Belinda Contague

      Do you worry about sending things back or complaining? I’ve heard people say that after a set amount of sending things back, Amazon cuts you off forever. Anything you paid for on Kindle, gone. Forever. So, does that still happen?

      • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

        I’ve never run into this. But if I do, it will be fascinating fodder … for another column.

  • Shannon

    yay, i am so glad this was posted…haveing
    a like experience and disliking the email reply, to then having the option of an immediate call with number of choice and then a quick fix was so wonderful! i had wanted to post about, glad you wrote this!

  • Michael Bian

    As technology puts business reviews at consumers’ fingertips, so does customer service become a greater priority for business owners.

  • Loni

    I want to know how to get in touch with an American customer service rep. I have spoken to 3 reps so far about not receiving my daughter’s birthday present because Amazon evidently cancelled the order in error and keep telling me that UPS delivered it to the incorrect address so it was sent back to them. Called UPS and found out this was not true. It never left their facility because Amazon cancelled my order. Now I need to speak to someone in America because the folks outside the US have no concern for my problem and are just reading from a script since I keep hearing the same response over and over “I’m so sorry you have had to endure this problems?” Any advice?

    • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

      Loni, all I can suggest is try a different method. If you’ve tried phone, try chat. Or if you’ve tried chat, try e-mail. And document everything and have each rep refer to it. There’s no magic bullet to fixing complicated problems with Amazon, unfortunately. Even mine wasn’t fully resolved. And good luck.

      • Loni

        I ended up asking for a supervisor which evidently sends the issue back to the US. My issue was not resolved either in that I did not get the responses that I wanted. Thanks so much for the advise though.

  • Maxamillion Mansionhouse III

    So the secret is…?
    I didn’t really read anything helpful here.

    In fact, ha, I feel a little like you stated towards the beginning of the article, this article attempted to and stated that it would help us readers solve an issue (tell the secret) but was useless. Ha!

    This article was basically you showing us all how ‘intelligent’ you must be with all these different ways that you know how to get customer support with your electronic devices and showing off your wordiness in the process.

    Imo you make yourself look bad at putting down these customer service reps cause they don’t know where hell your free screen protectors are. Ha.

    They gave you $10 for not getting free screen protectors and you are complaining?

    I’d never want to work for or deal with someone like you with doing business as I bet you are never happy.

    • ReformSchool

      So you believe, MM3, that the Hearst publishing empire’s mass-bribery of public officials for Patty’s probation for bank robbery was justice served. Do you also think the drunk driver who cripples you for life should pay a fine and drive away, to kill the next time? Liberalism destroyed America.