Phillip Smith

How customer service should be done: A real-life example

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

This weekend, I decided I wanted to finally order a copy of Beyond The Echo Chamber. Unfortunately, the book’s publisher doesn’t offer direct shipping to Canada, so – after chatting with one of the authors – I was directed to Amazon. Don’t get me wrong: I use Amazon quite a bit. However, when buying a book from a smaller or progressive press – like The New Press – I try to go direct, or get it from a smaller distributor. Don’t ask me why, I just do. (Probably some incorrect assumption that more of the proceeds will get to the author or some-such lefty nonsense.)

The side effect of ordering from Amazon is that I over-order. You see, the shipping on sending one book to Canada is high enough to encourage me to get five or six books instead, thus distributing the cost of shipping across more goods (in theory, anyway). That's all fine, as the Amazon shopping experience is a lovely one and I can read all those handy reviews and so on. 

It wasn't until Sunday, however, that I realized that Amazon's real competitive advantage is not their shopping experience. It is, in fact, their customer service experience. No doubt you all have stories of your own, but here's how mine goes:

As I finished my order, I remembered that I had purchased Amazon Prime long ago and that -- because of its US-only shipping policy -- I had never used it. Now, Amazon prime was about $75 USD and was supposed to offer very low, or free, shipping in exchange for that annual fee. However, I had missed the rather fine print at the time of purchasing Prime and had, subsequently, never used it. It had long expired, in fact.

Nonetheless, I thought: what the heck, I'm here on the site, I'll send a message about it. So I did, and it was roughly:

Some time ago, I purchased Amazon Prime at the suggestion of the site. However, I was not able to use it as I do not reside in the US and rarely send things to people in the US. I don't feel that the US-only shipping condition of the Prime service is well presented. So, in the interest of future customers, you may want to make that a bit more clear. I'm not formally asking for a refund, but just wanted to make you aware of my experience.

It was probably a bit longer, but that’s roughly what I said. The next day – a Sunday, no less – I had this response in my mailbox:


I'm sorry for any inconvenience you may have experienced.

I've forwarded your feedback about the Amazon Prime membership program to the appropriate department. It is always important for us to hear how customers react to all aspects of shopping at I'll make sure the appropriate people in our company see your message. Strong customer feedback like yours helps us continue to improve the selection and service we provide, and we appreciate the time you took to write to us.

Thanks for your suggestion about making  Amazon Prime option eligibility criteria more clear to those who do not reside or often ship to US. 

Because you didn't purchase more using Amazon Prime option, I've made an exception to our standard policy. I've requested a refund of $79 to your Visa card. You'll see the refund in the next 2-3 business days.

And two hours later:

Greetings from

We're writing to let you know we processed your refund of $79.00 

That's a full refund on a service that I had let expire without taking the time to write to Amazon about. Probably six months or a year have passed, and -- still -- Amazon dealt with the issue quickly, efficiently, and clearly in the most customer-becomes-marketer way possible. 

It's a simple lesson: put customers first, and ensure that you have the staff and systems to deliver 110% to those customers. 

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


Want to launch a local news business? Apply now for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp

I’m excited to announce that applications are now open again for the journalism entrepreneurship boot camp. And I’m even more excited to ...… Continue reading