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When communications break down, customer experience suffers

I am a fan of Amazon. An advocate, even, you could say. I’ve directed friends and family to their website, and frequently check Amazon for their listed price on an item I’m looking at in a competitor’s store. My first purchase on Amazon was an order for one book, became a Prime member (Amazon’s membership program that includes free shipping, a video streaming service and other benefits in exchange for an annual fee) when it became available in Canada, and my Amazon shopping habits have since grown to include everyday items like soap, detergent and groceries. So yes, you could say I’m a fan of Amazon.

In addition to the Prime benefits listed above, membership used to include a 20% discount on PrimeBasics products, Amazon’s own line of generic products ranging from electronics to goods for the home.

I say ”used to” because Amazon ended this benefit quietly, without letting its customers – and at least the one customer service agent I chatted with – know.

I was attempting to make a purchase of a PrimeBasic product when the typical 20% discount – that was often applied in your Amazon cart, at checkout – didn’t seem to be working with my order.

I checked the Prime membership benefits page, and sure enough, the 20% discount was still listed among the benefits.

Obviously, something wasn’t adding up. I contacted Amazon’s customer service through their chat system to figure out what was going on.

The representative on the other side of the chat was extremely patient and understanding as I explained the situation, and as I worked through the solutions she attempted to provide (remove the item from my cart and add it back again, add another item to my cart and see if that would work, etc.) before coming to the conclusion that I had suspected:

“Dave maybe the promotion has ended”, she wrote.

I didn’t know what to say. I obviously found this response unsatisfactory.

Of course I suspected the promotion had ended, but when I contacted customer service, I expected them to tell me definitively that it either had or hadn’t, and not reinforce the uncertainty I had before contacting customer service. I was talking to someone who worked for Amazon; someone who should be in the know and could give me answers.

I didn’t – and couldn’t – blame the rep for not knowing whether the promotion had ended. Clearly, somewhere in Amazon’s internal communications infrastructure, there had been a breakdown of messaging; was this the result of operations making a change without properly communicating it to the internal stakeholders who would be most affected by this change?

Or was more likely that, among the hundreds of communications – email or otherwise – this CSR had received, this one had simply gone unread?

I have no way of knowing exactly what happened, but regardless, when it came time for the Amazon rep to communicate that information back to the customer, the best she could do was “maybe the promotion has ended”.

Now I’d love to say that after this experience, I stopped shopping at Amazon and cancelled my Prime subscription. But I didn’t, and I haven’t. Mostly, because, as I said, I’m a fan of Amazon, and one lousy customer service interaction isn’t enough to dissuade me from ever shopping there again.

But also because my experience at Livewire has allowed me to work with a number of organizations, big and small, and has shown me that these kinds of communication breakdowns happen all the time.

Sometimes, those breakdowns go unnoticed, with little to no apparent consequences. In this instance though, the breakdown just happened to leave one customer dissatisfied – albeit for a very short period of time.

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