SaaS Customer Success Blog

Lessons in Antagonistic Customer Communication, from Amazon

Update: Amazon has re-opened/re-populated the wiped Kindle. They did so without comment, though. Odd stuff.

Amazon isn't known for its world-class customer service on digital goods. They're much better on the physical stuff, even bordering on the sadistically ironic with their poor digital customer service policies. Such is the digital age.

Recently, Amazon had another customer service blunder with digital goods on Kindle. The story goes that, without warning, Amazon deleted all the content on a user's Kindle then followed up with a series of terse and obtuse emails when the customer (rightfully) asked what was going on.

The blog post I linked above contains the text of the email conversation between Amazon and the customer. Below, I added a little commentary as to exactly where the Amazon rep goes off the rails, and how.

Most glaring problems with the 1st email from Amazon (notifying the customer of Amazon's action):

amazon bad service letter 1 resized 600Most glaring problems with the 2nd email from Amazon (responding to customer's confusion and request for reconsideration):

describe the image3rd email from Amazon (closing the case):

amazon bad service letter 3 resized 600

What Amazon should have done

Here's what I would have done if I was running this part of Amazon's customer service department:
  1. Call the customer. Talk to them like a human being, which they are. Yes, most of the customers this group deals with are no-good-nicks, and most of the conversations will be beyond futile. But for the 1 in 100 times that you got it wrong, a call will help you sniff it out.
  2. Empower the rep to admit they got it wrong. It doesn't seem like Michael would consider any recourse. He may well not have the option from his manager.
  3. Tell the customer everything you know. Amazon played it close to the vest here, but could have tipped its hand a bit if they were willing to admit they maybe got it wrong. But they weren't, so this is kind of useless for them without that change, too.
  4. Get the little things right. Don't use a distro email for responses, avoid the passive voice, etc. The whole tone and positioning of these emails is just off. And of course you know these types of things get out and go viral nowadays, so it's important to get the little things right.

  5. Act as though you're on the same team until proven otherwise. Amazon began the engagement assuming the customer was in the wrong. I'm sure they have ample evidence, but they missed the fact that the 1st email is the 1st time the customer has heard of it. Again, yes, there are toxic customers, but for the chance you got it wrong, you should act as though you're playing on the same side until you confirm the facts.

Why companies do bad things to customers

Some very small percentage of customers can be toxic to a company and actively harm one or both parties. For very large company like Amazon, these rare occurrences happen in sufficient volume and at sufficient scale that it's important to have resources like Michael to remediate toxic customers. How and when to use these people on your customer base, though, is a whole other matter, and in the case Amazon seems to have gotten it awfully wrong. 

In this case, Amazon opened with the wrong tone (accusatory), wrong channel (email, when phone would have been better), and wrong positioning (customer is the bad guy, there's no recourse). Oh, and they got the wrong person. Predictably, the story is on a slew of blogs and was #1 on Hacker News with 400+ comments.

The customer service takeaway here is that it's really, really important to not select the nuclear option on a customer unless you're 100% sure you're right; and even then, it's important to deliver the message in the appropriate tone, channel, and with the appropriate positioning. Messing up can have consequences worse than the pre-existing toxic relationship between the customer and the company.

Topics: user experience customer communication customer remediation