What Really Sets Amazon.com Apart

Amazon.com has claimed a relentless pursuit of customer-centric processes since its inception. Sure, Bezos’ access to VERY low-cost capital and minimal profit expectations gave him an advantage, but others have had those factors and no longer exist. It’s the fact that they are relentless in their focus on customers that makes the difference. Others have had it and lost it, FedEx is an example, but when your competition is UPS and USPS the bar is pretty low. Amazon has hundreds of competitors, so they can’t afford to lower their guard.

I was treated to a recent example of Amazon amazing this last two weeks and while the process needs improvement, the result was stunning.

I bought a file cabinet from one of their online stores, We Love Our Customers. (If anything was further from the truth, I am not sure what it would be, but I digress.) The cabinet arrived on time as agreed and needed handles screwed onto the 4 drawers (as advertised). Each drawer was to come with 2 screws. Unfortunately, one arrived with only one screw.

I contacted the seller and 2 days later they told me they would check with the “factory” to see if they could send me a new screw. 2 days later they told me they couldn’t but would offer me $8.00 as a credit or they could have me ship the unit back for a refund or replacement. I had not kept the box and could not believe they would want the entire product returned and then ship another for lack of a screw. I suggested if that was their solution they should just ship me another unit, I would remove the screw I needed and then ship the replacement back in its box. They didn’t like that idea, but offered no other solutions.

I escalated to Amazon customer service. Shortly afterwards I talked with a mediocre customer service person whose English was “ok” and who was clearly reading a script, but did want to help. She said she would look into things and get back to me and that I could file an A-Z refund claim. She called me back (pretty amazing) and, reading from her script, told me she was waiting for an answer from the seller. I filed an A-Z claim and was told it would be up to 2 weeks for them to “investigate.”

Meanwhile, I made several trips to the hardware store buying what I hoped would be the right size screw to replace the missing one. Turns out it’s a metric, fine machine screw, which, on my 5th try, I got right. So I have now solved my own problem. We Love Our Customers (liars) have said nothing and not communicated anything. Amazon calls me again (amazing) and I tell them I have solved the problem for about $25 in screws and 5 trips to the store. They offer to try to get me a $25 refund. I explain that is not really my issue. They do however, after another 2 days, get me the $25 refund.

I am quite upset by this whole process and have pretty much lost faith in Amazon’s vaunted customer service. Why? They don’t seem to be doing much, the rep is mediocre at best, and the A-Z process is taking too long. So, I start shifting my buying to other sites.

Today, out of nowhere, Amazon has refunded the entire purchase price and not asked for the item to be returned. Pretty amazing. Did it take WAY too long? Yes. Did Amazon lose some of my business in the mean time? Yes. However, what they ended up doing exceeded my expectations and I am now, again, a loyal customer.

Should they move faster? Yes. Should their reps be better English speakers without the need to read a script all the time? Yes. But the net result is more than most other companies would do. Good for them.

Mitch

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If You Can’t Fix It, Feature It: Part 7

As I said in the earlier six posts in this series, one of my Group Executives at Teledyne, Roy Fields, said those words to me (If you can’t fix it, feature it) and they have proven hugely valuable. I think store’s position needs no further comment.

 

 

 

 

Mitch

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A Brief Study in Contrast

Two customer experience stories in the same day. One is an example of great (and from an airline no less). The other is an example of pathetic, at best. Let’s start with the great one.

I was sitting in the Burbank airport waiting for my Southwest flight when the gate agent called my name and asked me to come up to see him. I did and he said he and Southwest wanted to thank me for being an A List flyer and that I would be getting a small gift from them. I selected free wifi on a flight. Southwest calls this Surprise and Delight. It did both. Well done.

Then at the other extreme we have Comcast/Xfinity. I needed to talk to them about a technical issue I was having and did not want to spend 30 minutes on chat. Try to find a phone # to call them. They make it almost impossible to call them. They claim they will call you but you must have an account # to do that. I didn’t have the #, so I just kept searching for the phone number. The website made it impossible, but fortunately my friends at Bing found it for me quickly. The technical problem was solved promptly (faster than finding the # to call). Wow how awful, but then they have an effective monopoly where I live so I am stuck with them (not that AT&T is actually any better).

What a study in contrast that day.

Mitch

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The Try Something Loop

Most companies use the “try something loop” when they have a shortfall in sales that needs to be addressed in the short-term. The try something loop consists of having a brainstorming meeting to come up with ideas to increase sales in the near term. One of the ideas is picked (how it is picked can be a popular vote or other random method, including the one the boss likes best). The idea is tried and it usually doesn’t work, because if solving problems by brainstorming and picking was a good idea, most problems would be solved that way.

The “loop” often results in implementing a new CRM because many are convinced that if a new CRM is put in place, then a new process will result. It doesn’t.

The next most likely “solution” is to change sales managers. Apparently, according to this article, which summarizes the churn at the CSO level well, the tenure is now about 19 months. Even more volatile than the CMO. Rearranging the deck chairs continues.

If you want to improve sales, you need to know the root cause/constraint to getting more revenue. Today, in most US companies, those constraints are on the delivery side not the revenue opportunity side. “Tomorrow” it is likely to return to the revenue generation side. Don’t resort to the “try something loop” when that day comes. Learn to find the constraint or bottleneck and relieve it.

Mitch

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More Sales Prevention

I am thinking that to be as good at sales prevention as some companies are, and still exist, it is because they have a monopoly or near monopoly, or their entire competitor base operates the same way.

Today’s sales prevention example, which is stunning in so many ways, is Comcast.

I recently needed to add Comcast service at a new address. I am not currently a Comcast customer. Being thoroughly up to date, I went to the comcast.com web site to see how to get new service. Turns out you can’t. Their website apparently is focused only on existing customers, or people looking for a store. I finally decided to chat with someone and they were able to give me a phone # to call.

That person was quite helpful and told me I could have their 1G service at the new address. That was awesome since AT&T was offering 18MB at the same location. (I am thinking that is just a bit over dial-up speed). Got all signed up.

The next day, late in the day I got a vm message telling me they had a question about the address, and I needed to call. I did, pushed 1 for service since that was the instruction if they had called you. Phone went silent for over a minute. Hung up, tried again. Same result.

Next call I tried acting as if I was a new customer, thinking they might actually care about that (despite how difficult it is to find a # to call them if you actually are a new customer). Got a great young woman on the phone who proceeded to tell me I had no order in their system and that clearly I had talked to a 3rd party provider who had not entered my order correctly. I told her that wasn’t actually possible since I had an email from them. Anyway she decided to re-enter my order and advised that 1G service was not available at the address but I could have 250MB (400MB also not available). Disappointed was I, but still better than 18MB, she signed me up, gave me the same appointment I had before from the fake Comcast person, sent me my confirmation emails; and all done.

Today, I decided to go online and look at my account and see what was going on. Can’t access my online account. No reason given, just can’t. So I decided maybe it wasn’t set up yet so I tried to set one up. I end up in a loop asking me to create a password, that never seems to take but does not give me a message about why.

So, I call them (I have a # now). Talk to a guy on the phone who advises that you can’t set up an account without actual Comcast equipment, which I won’t have until installation.

Seriously, if these people actually had to compete with a real competitor they’d be all done. But they don’t, so they aren’t.

Do you have that luxury? I doubt it, so make sure your “sales prevention department” is not in action.

Mitch

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Sales Prevention, Or At Least Impediment

Last week I posted an example of brick and mortar suicide. Today’s example is a brick and mortar store (Target) but it is really target.com.

Recently a friend of the family had her first child. We wanted to get her something to recognize the birth and found out she had registered at Target and on target.com. My wife then went to target.com to find an appropriate item to buy. We have used other online registries and they are usually good at showing you what has been listed that is not yet purchased by anyone. Even after finally buying two things for the mother, my wife is not 100% certain what she bought wasn’t already purchased by others as the site never updated after she finally found a way to buy.

It took her fully 30 minutes and 3 tries at the shopping cart to buy the two items she wanted and get them gift wrapped and provide a card (well actually 2 cards because target.com won’t let you combine the gifts into one package). The user interface made no sense and the site made it a challenge to try to buy. In the age of amazon.com, this is beyond unacceptable. Is it no wonder these other retailers struggle to get any consequential e-commerce business. Who designs these sites and who is doing the user interface work? If it is an allegedly skilled person, somebody needs to check their work. If it is an amateur, somebody needs to review Target’s online strategy.

You can argue they got the sale, so what. The so-what is that is the last sale they will get online unless we have the misfortune of having someone else register with them.

Mitch

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And More Brick and Mortar Suicide

It never ceases to amaze me how brick and mortar retailers find more ways to do themselves in while blaming e-tailers for their plight. Today’s example is Big 5 Sporting Goods. To be fair I rarely shop there, but have a few times over the years.

A few days ago we saw an ad for air mattresses and sleeping bags; two things we needed. Rather than buy them online from amazon, we decided to go to the local Big 5 to buy them there. Waste of time … unfortunately.

It was difficult if not impossible to figure out in the store what was actually on-sale and what features the various products offered. The signs on the sleeping bags suggested their “regular price” suggesting, at least to us, there was some other price available, but that was difficult to actually figure out.

After spending about 10 minutes trying to decide what to buy, we went to get help. At our Big 5 the only employees available to help you are the two cashiers. Thus you have to wait until they have cleared everyone in line before they can help. The cashier was friendly and modestly knowledgeable, but really left us more confused.

We decided to go home and buy them on amazon. Easy, probably about the same price, and, no hassle with lots of info. Too bad they lost the sale … to amazon. Not really, they lost the sale to lack of service. But at least their advertising got us into the store.

Mitch

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