Amazon does the right things when no one is looking

Is there anything you can’t get from Amazon?

Now that it even offers groceries in addition to all manner of merchandise and online media, you might expect a myriad of things to go wrong with the massive cogs and wheels of Amazon’s automated online market.

But no.

Service seems to have actually crept into the opposite direction, where errors can be even anticipated and corrected in advance.

I know because it happened to me when Amazon issued me credits entirely on their own — before I even knew I was owed them.

Sometimes the Good News Guy has his own worthy experience needing to be told, sharing some already about Fairfield Inn and Comcast (yes, Comcast — the Good News Guy is also a fair guy).

I do not like shopping. I do not like crowds. I do not like traffic. I do not like green eggs and…wait, never mind. But I still like getting a good price. Is that so wrong?

And to sweeten the deal somehow, my Amazon stuff magically arrives at my front door by Amazon elves. I almost feel guilty and over-privileged. Well, almost.

The subject of a previous topic, Amazon seems to be expanding customer service commensurate with its endless selection of one-stop-shop products and services offering almost any type of merchandise, delivered quickly at competitive prices. Apparently, Inc. and Forbes agree.

And if that isn’t enough, a Prime Membership annual fee includes shipping for most items, movie viewing, music library, Kindle eBooks, online storage, and now food, along with fresh perishable deliveries.

I’m scared, but in a good way.

The unaddressed issue with most services is the inconvenience associated with an incorrect order or defective product – a topic creatively addressed by Zappos in a previous story. Many businesses overlook the true cost of unsatisfactory service — the price plus any time and effort expended to ship or schlep an item back to where it came from. And don’t forget the follow-up online and phone time to make sure things are resolved.

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No shipping and schlepping here.

“My most recent merchandise return with Amazon was not actually a return,” said Der. Wait — what am I doing interviewing myself? I’m losing it, so let me just tell you about it.

I ordered three different vitamin supplements that were supposed to arrive in one shipment in one box. One bottle was missing, but the packing invoice said all three were there.

Sigh. So now what? How will I document that? Will I now need to write an email to higher-ups or return the other two to have the actual order re-sent as placed?

Not to worry — Amazon simply took my word over their slick interactive order-specific web portal and sent me another one.

Just like that.

But wait, there’s more.

I have a confession to make. (Don’t listen, Amazon.) As a satisfied Prime customer, I don’t really need every item of merchandise I order the next business day. So when I recently had only one of numerous other orders one day overdue, I actually didn’t notice, let alone say anything.

Totally on their own, Amazon voluntarily noticed the one delay and notified me by email they refunded the shipping charge that would have applied had I not had the Prime discount.

And the potential shipping charges for the other items I did get.


Hold on. There’s still more.

As a Prime member, I enjoy their selection of streaming movies and television as an alternative to cable. And being a bit of an electronics geek, I cannot of course have a TV that is too big or internet that is too fast.

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(Hot consumer tip! When viewing the Prime movies web page on a mobile device or smartphone, Amazon displays an option for many movies to download onto the actual phone storing it for later viewing without having to stream it over a phone carrier or internet connection. Long boring flights now fly by for no extra charge. But I digress.)

Sometimes a streamed show can suffer from a random freeze hiccup when the bandwidth is overloaded. This happened to me recently when streaming a Prime movie (yes, it had lots of explosions), and the traffic jam could have been anywhere along the internet broadband connection. The particular movie was a recent release requiring a $4 surcharge debit to my credit card stored in my profile. The viewing pauses were minimal and brief, and didn’t really mind.

Imagine my surprise to receive an email the next day from Amazon observing that they noticed I had trouble viewing the movie and voluntarily crediting back the surcharge — even though I successfully viewed the entire feature.

OK, the Big Brother level of how they knew about this was a bit unsettling, but that faded into customer appreciation for going above and beyond.

The principle at stake is far greater than the shipping issues or minor movie surcharge. In three unrelated and insignificant customer service glitches, Amazon’s corporate culture and monitoring protocol enabled a voluntarily check of their own performance providing out-of-the box ways to offset any perceived inconvenience. No matter how small.

So are they really that good? Maybe, maybe not. I have had a couple of unsatisfactory past experiences, and so have others. So what? Perfection is an elusive goal with any gargantuan operation having so many moving parts and millions of orders.

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Rather, it is the willingness to recognize an error and sincerely want to make it right, especially without being asked. That is why I will always be an Amazon customer.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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