20 August 2010

Larry Ray : Amazon: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Graphic, with a tad of Photoshop by Larry Ray, from Mobile Reference.

Amazon: Don't call us, we'll call you
(Or: Dude, my shoe's got a square toe)

By Larry Ray / The Rag Blog / August20, 2010

OK, I should never have ordered a pair of shoes over the internet. But Amazon.com has always had good stuff, good prices, and fast delivery. I've ordered lots of stuff from them over the years. A brand new iMac, top of the line bread baking machine, shelves of books and other stuff that has always arrived in great shape at a notable savings. But I had never had reason to ask questions or talk about an order with a customer service agent.

That's good, because Amazon's idea of customer service doesn't mean dialing a 1-800 number and talking to someone. Their approach to customer service is just like ordering merchandise on Amazon. You are expected to click your way through a series of drop down windows with fixed choices till you narrow down a specific item that requires customer service, and then you click some more for options on how you contact customer service. A toll free customer service number is not an option and was not handily located on their web site. Playing "Where's Waldo" to find a phone number is not customer service.

I really wanted to talk to someone at Amazon about the pair of Rockport ProWalker shoes that arrived with the front sole and curved toe of the right shoe looking not at all like the left one. Someone in Bangladesh running the toe rounding grinder clearly dozed off, grinding most of the toe area off the right shoe even leaving a flat spot on what was supposed to be an ample, evenly curved toe. Not to worry, it was boxed up and sent right off... to me.

Worse yet, the quality of the shoes was more like what one might see in a Big Lots or Dollar Store closeout, not anything like the Rockport shoes I have worn for years. So, at this point you really want to talk to someone when things get this messed up. And you would think someone there would want to learn about shoddy merchandise going out under the company name.

If you find the word help in tiny blue lettering in all the stuff at the upper right of the page and then click around enough you eventually get to their customer service page.

The first option is to contact Amazon by email ("Usually answered within 12 hours") the other option is "PHONE" and clicking that does not lead you to a phone number, rather you must enter your area code and telephone number and Amazon will call you back. And you can only email or be called back after clicking through a series of drop-down menus and selecting from a list of reasons why you need customer service... there is no drop-down option to simply "Talk to a human being."

After facing this inflexible wall of non-applicable options, for the hell of it I just typed "Amazon.com 1-800 number" into a search engine and got 4,540,000 returns.

Amazon has never published its toll-free customer service number it seems. And this has infuriated hundreds of thousands of Amazon customers. Checking the search results, the story of Amazon's inflexibility has been reported for years by major news media like NPR, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, and countless news blogs and web sites.

One personal blog called amazoncustomerservice.blogspot.com publishes not only all of Amazon's toll free numbers, but all the other Amazon business and departmental numbers and addresses in the USA and in the UK. This site also provides the hard, if not impossible to find direct toll free numbers to Yahoo, PayPal, E-Bay, and Netflix.

I dialed Amazon's toll free U.S. number, (800) 201-7575, and after a bit of a pause for clicking and connecting and the routine recording declaring, "This call may be recorded for quality purposes," I got Maria in Manila. Very sweet girl, happy to have her job in the call center there. Her pronounced accent was lilting and understandable. She knew nothing at all about Amazon's quality control or about mismatched shoes, but did find the return policy and procedures on her printed flow sheet which she read to me.

I had already printed out the Amazon return UPS label and returned the shoes. But Maria was so nice, even though she clearly knew nothing about Amazon's quality control operation, I simply thanked her for her help with return policy rules and confirmed that my credit card had been credited with a refund.

I returned to the Amazon page and in the search bar under "All Departments" at the top of the page, I typed in "customer service number" and promptly got three returns. The first was a book in Kindle Edition from which I took the graphic at the top of this article, "Secret Toll-Free Customer Service Phone Numbers and Shortcuts to an Operator for Nearly 600 Businesses and US Government Agencies " Clicking this $3.99 bargain opens up information about the book's content, and lo! scrolling down we read:
Did you notice that it is hard to find customer service phone numbers on many web sites? Well, businesses hide their customer service phone numbers. They want you to fill out lengthy online forms. BEAT THEM WITH THIS SECRET YELLOW PAGES BOOK. It collects nearly 600 Hard-to-Find Toll-Free Customer Service Phone Numbers together. Better yet, we tell you how to skip automated prompts and talk directly to a human operator."
And there, on Amazon's own web site, this book offers as an example of what is in their treasure trove of information... and who did they choose for their example? Yep, you guessed it:
Example for Amazon.com toll-free phone numbers

Amazon.com (Cust. service): 1-800-201-7575; to reach an operator, do not dial or say anything.

Amazon.com (Seller support): 1-877-251-0696; to reach an operator, do not dial or say anything.

Amazon.com (Rebate status): 1-866-348-2492; to reach an operator, press 0.

Amazon Visa: 1-888-247-4080; to reach an operator, dial 00 at each prompt.
None of this would concern my college student granddaughter. I, however, am old enough to remember real customer service from the electric power company, the telephone company, catalog order departments, and many others. You dialed a number, talked with someone and found out what you needed to know.

At Amazon, AT&T, the cable TV company, and other places where I spend money, they are not interested in talking... they don't need to anymore. As soon as people willingly started to spend several dollars for a cup of coffee, who needed customer service any longer?

[Retired journalist Larry Ray is a Texas native and former Austin television news anchor. He also posts at The iHandbill.]

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