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Customer Service Empowerment Techniques Kudos Kudon'ts

Consumer confidence is a many splendored, and easily shaken, commodity

Great products are part of a great customer experience. Costco has figured this out. In addition to favorable pricing and excellent treatment, Costco has earned a reputation for carrying reputable products. While it’s not a perfect system, more often than not customers can buy products with confidence—figuring that only the crème de la crème will make the Costco cut. Because Costco carries a relatively narrow range of products compared to such mega-retailers as Amazon, they can be highly selective. What happens to product reliability, however, as the range and sheer number of products increase?

Wow, what a week! On the one hand, I’ve had my usual positive buying experience at Costco. On the other, I’ve experienced an unusual “disturbance in the force” with Amazon.

Recently, I ordered two inexpensive Amazon healthcare products. Uncharacteristically, one was not through Prime (my usual criterion for Amazon shopping). The other was a Prime product.

The non-Prime item arrived first. It was the wrong product. The Prime item that followed also was incorrect. I’ve never gone 0 for 2 in all the years I’ve shopped Amazon. Both these experiences spoke to poor customer service by the companies providing the products. What followed demonstrated an unusual breakdown in Amazon’s handling of the matters.

When I reported the first item, Amazon said they would have to contact the third-party seller to make it right. After several days, I received an email through Amazon referencing the third-party seller’s request for a photo of the incorrect product to replace it. I dutifully went the link and tried…and tried…and tried to upload the requested photo, to no avail.

Thoroughly frustrated, I reached out to Amazon again for direction. After having to repeat twice the reason I was calling, the rep—in theory—moved resolution forward by filing a claim for a refund. I say “in theory” because what transpired with the other item has completely shaken my confidence in Amazon, at least for the time being.

I thought the second item issue, through Prime, would be easy-peasy to resolve given past experiences. Boy, it was anything but. The first rep processed the wrong item for resolution, even though I repeatedly explained what it was, provided an order and item number, and referenced the checkmarked box of the item involved when I reached out to customer service.

The second rep processed the correct item, but the ensuing email indicated I was to return the product with no refund. Wha-a-a-a-a-t?

The third rep, acknowledging my extreme frustration over multiple screwups on a supposedly easy return, processed a full refund and said I didn’t need to return the item.

I strongly recommended to the third rep that she reach out to the appropriate supervisor to call out the ridiculous series of time-wasting steps I had to take to resolve a basic issue. I mentioned that this wasted a bunch of customer reps’ time as well.

In my survey response to Amazon, I called out concerns about both communications and training skills. We will see.

Here are my takeaways from these Amazon experiences:

1. I don’t plan to buy anything that isn’t Amazon Prime from Amazon anytime soon;

2. This makes me that much more reluctant to buy anything from any seller I don’t know/trust;

3. I don’t know if my Amazon snafus were just a “bad day at the office” or if this portends future problems with the platform. Understandably, I now have some reluctance to order from the online mega-retailer. We shall see.

I’m now heading back to Costco for some stress relief and to remind myself what a joyous shopping experience feels like.

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