Customer Experience Lessons From Amazon UK’s Failures

It is my experience that for the most part and on the whole Amazon UK delivers. It makes it easy for me to find stuff, order it and pay for it. It keeps me informed about when the item/s are going to be delivered. And when they are delivered. Finally, Amazon makes it easy for me to deal with matters that have not worked out as I expected them to.

Against the background that I have painted, I have found myself somewhat disappointed with Amazon as a result of three customer experience failures. I want to share these failures (breakdowns) with you. Why?  It is the breakdowns, in the habitual, that provide me with access to getting present to that which I take for granted, to see matters with a fresh eye, and usually these breakdowns provide an opening for breakthroughs.

Customer Experience Failure 1: The Product Does Not Meet My Expectations

I ordered a copy of Crime and Punishment from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK. I deliberately picked a Seller who displayed a copy of the book with a red cover and described it as “Used – Very Good”. What turned up?  A tatty copy: the book was worn/shabby and the cover was white not red.  What emotion was aroused in me? Disgust. I found myself not wanting to touch the book. I found myself wanting to throw the book in the bin.

What did I do? I logged into my Amazon account, found the appropriate order, and raised an issue (in writing) with the Seller – sharing my disappointment. Within an day or so the Seller reached out to me in a friendly-understanding manner. The Seller apologised. The Seller shared her disappointment with me. And the Seller refunded my money.

What are the lessons here?  I can think of several:

1. The product is most definitely a core constituent of the Customer Experience!  Put differently, it is foolish to exclude the product and product considerations from the Customer Experience bucket – which some ‘Customer Experience guru’s’ do.

2. You must deliver on the expectations that you set.  If you display a red cover then make sure that the book delivered has a red cover. If you describe the product as being used yet in a very good condition then make sure it is.  The description of the product is not just some marketing fluff; it is a promise that you are making to the customer and in making that promise you are setting the customer’s expectations!

3. If you mess up then be charming-gracious about dealing with the consequence of it. How? By owning up to the mess up AND most importantly the emotional impact of your mess up on that particular customer.  How do you work out what the emotional impact is? By listening to the customer and/or asking the customer.  Then making things right. In this case the Seller refunded the total cost of the book.

4. Use every interaction to build trust and goodwill. It matters that the Seller did not ask me to waste my time sending the tatty book back. If the Seller has asked or insisted that I send the book back then that would have left me feeling angry. Why? Not being trusted and having my valuable time wasted. By trusting me, I am left feeling nothing but goodwill towards the Seller. How do I explain this event to myself? Something along the line that even good folks f**k up from time to time.

Customer Experience Failure 2: I Have To Go To The Post Office Depot To Pick Up My Parcel

One day I got home to find a ‘ticket’ for me from the Post Office. It was notice telling me that I needed to go to the Post Office Depot to pick up my item. And that I needed to pay something like £2.00. Why? Because the Sender had not paid postage. So I made my way to the Post Office depot to collect my item. What did this cost me in addition to the £2.00? It cost me something like 45 minutes of my valuable time: drive there, queue-wait, collect-pay, and drive back home.  So I logged into my Amazon account and made a complaint to the Seller of this item – a book.

What did this Seller do, how did he respond?  I got an explanation, an excuse, for the failure to pay postage. Something like, all are items are franked, this should not have happened, don’t know how this has happened. And I was told that half the cost of the book would be refunded along with the £2.00 postage I had paid.  How did this leave me feeling? P****d off!  Why?  My central gripe – waste of 45 minutes of my life – was not acknowledged and addressed

What are the lessons here?

1. The customer cares about his/her experience not about your policies, processes or practices! So if you mess up then acknowledge the impact your mess up has had on the customer – as experienced by the customer.  I was looking for something like “You are busy. By not paying for postage we made you waste 45 minutes of your life including 20 minutes waiting in a queue which you hate to do. Really sorry about that.”

2. When you mess up then ask the customer what you need to do to make things right.  By not asking me the Seller did not involve me in resolving my complaint. By making a decision on my behalf I experienced the Seller treating me as an object not as a human being.  If the Seller had asked me what he needed to do to make things right, I might have told him that by asking me that question he had already made things right. Instead, I was left thinking-feeling “This is NOT good enough! It is not adequate compensation for wasting my time.”

Customer Experience Failure 3: Amazon UK Lies To Me!

I ordered a book directly from Amazon UK – not from one of the Sellers on Amazon UK.  I ordered that book either late on Friday or early on Saturday.  I was expecting to get the book in the following week – earliest Monday. To my surprise I got an email from Amazon UK informing that the book would be delivered the next day: Sunday.  I found myself DELIGHTED – delighted that Amazon delivers on Sundays, delighted that I could start reading it on the Sunday as I had some spare time that Sunday.

Guess what happened on Sunday?  Around about lunchtime I got an email from Amazon UK.  The email told me that Amazon UK had delivered the book to my home.  That email left me puzzled.  If the book had been delivered then why had it not made its way through my letter box? So I opened the door to see if the book had been left outside on my doorstep. No. I went around to one side of the house, to see if the deliver folks had left it in the garden as they sometimes do. No.

How was I left thinking?  I was left asking myself questions.  How is it that Amazon says the book has been delivered and yet it has not been delivered?  Has Amazon made a mistake? Or is it that the delivery folks are playing games with Amazon? Or is it that Amazon’s definition of delivered differs from my understanding of delivered. And if Amazon gets something as basic as this wrong then what else does it get wrong: invoicing, not delivering some of my stuff, charging me a different price to that which was displayed?

How was I left feeling? Delight turned into significant disappointment.  There was even some frustration thrown in. When? When I was looking around the house for the book that had been delivered (according to Amazon UK) and which I could not find.  I believe that I also experienced mild anger. I suspect that if an Amazon manager had been around I would have ‘given him/her a piece of my mind’.

When did I get the book? On Monday. Was I delighted/happy to get the book on Monday? No.  Yet, if I had been told that the book would be delivered on Monday and had been delivered on Monday, I would have been happy. And importantly, my trust-confidence in Amazon would not have been dented.

What are the lessons here in addition to that which I have already shared?  The following occur to me:

1. If you are pushing the envelope on the Customer Experience (like Amazon UK is doing) then make sure that you do not push it so far that delight turns into disappointment.  It occurs to me that Amazon is pushing the envelope in letting its customers know when a delivery is scheduled. And then letting the same customers know when the delivery has been made.

2. Every piece of information you provide to your customers acts kind of like a promise and sets the customer expectations.  So make sure that the information is accurate.  Any ‘bullshitting’ in the provision of information is likely to come back and bite you in the form of customer disappointment. It occurs to me that this is a lesson that many in marketing and sales have yet to learn.

3. Your informational processes+practices must be in tune with you operational processes+practices. Any disconnect between the two is likely to impact your customers – usually negatively. I imagine that the delivery partner informed Amazon that delivery had been made. And this triggered Amazon’s email alert to me.

4. If you subcontract part of your value chain (like Amazon does when it comes to delivery) then you will be held responsible, by the customer, by the failures of your value chain partners. Therefore, it behoves you to select the right partners and ensure that if they are telling you something then you can rely on their word. For my part, I am clear that I am disappointed only in Amazon because I hold only Amazon UK accountable for my experience as a customer.

14 Customer Experience lessons: how you can improve the customer experience and help yourself

What is the ‘anatomy’ of a great customer experience?

What makes a great customer experience – the kind that one remembers, talks about and possibly writes about?   The logical answer is that each of us is different (even from one interaction to another) and so there is no definitive answer.  So let me ask a different question: what is the ‘anatomy’ of such an experience for me, Maz Iqbal?  So let me share my latest experience with you.

I travel, nowhere near what I used to in my younger days, yet I still travel.  On my business trips my trusted companion is a piece of Samsonite luggage (“cabin suitcase”) which I find useful and easy to use.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I lifted my ‘trusted companion’ to put it into the boot of taxi only to hear a loud pop and notice that the handle had become useless:

Given that the suitcase is both in a good condition and it was a birthday gift from my sister, I made my mind up to get it fixed.  That is when my wife mentioned that Samsonite offer a lifetime guarantee.  So I went online to find out about the lifetime guarantee.

Samsonite: the online experience sucks!

I found lots of vague, ambiguous, words and what occurred as lots of exceptions.  This just left me confused and thinking that the lifetime guarantee was anything but a lifetime guarantee.  You could say I was left thinking that the lifetime guarantee was simply the usual marketing bull****.

Lesson 1:  If you are going to make a promise of any kind then describe it clearly so that you customer knows exactly what you are and are not promising – be specific, use simple and unambiguous language.  For ordinary people “lifetime” means “for the rest of my life” and not 3, 4, 5 years.  Furthermore, when you litter your promise with a long list of exceptions then you create work / confusion / anxiety for the customer.

On the website it took me a little time to find the right people to talk to.  Once I got to the Contact Us page it was poorly laid out and I had to work to find out who to contact.  When I finally clicked on the right link I had to specify “country” and “city” to get the location/address of the nearest repair centre.  When I got there this is the information I saw:

 American Tourister
Samsonite
k2 global
unit 11, cordwallis business park
sl6 7bz maidenhead
+844 8809989

At first I was confused, can you figure out why?  Look at the number – which country is associated with country code 844?  Then I used my contextual knowledge to figure out that as the repair centre is in the UK the number was most likely: +44 844 8809989 or simply 0844 8809989.

Lesson2:  Design your website so that it is both usable and useful.  That means figuring out what jobs your customer has in mind when he comes to your website.  It also means using a web agency that gets usability (including information architecture) and as such puts forward a layout and signposting that is in alignment with how users use websites.

Lesson 3:  Some of your content is so much more important (to you, to the user, to the customer) than other content.  As such the impact of getting this content correct or incorrect has a higher impact on revenue, costs and the customer experience.  Therefore you need to put in place stringent quality control mechanism to make sure that this content is correct and up to date.

The K2 Global customer experience: an almost perfect experience!

I rang K2 and immediately I was talking to a helpful lady.  After listening to me describe my problem (unusable suitcase) and the job I wanted done (fix the broken handle) she clearly explained that it would not be easy for me to get the repairs done free of charge as I did not have the necessary documentation: proof of purchase and or completed warranty/registration card.  I told her that I was prepared to pay and asked her how much the repair was likely to cost. She told me that she could not tell me until the engineers had a taken a look at it.  I told her that I lived locally, she invited me to bring the luggage into the repair centre.  She went on to tell me the opening hours (7am to 3pm).  Before hanging up she advised me not to come at lunch-time as the workshop was busy and I would have a long wait.  I confirmed the address, thanked her and hung up.  How was I feeling?  Happy – this lady had been helpful and presented me with a route to getting the job I wanted done, done!

Lesson 4:  Make it easy for customers to get hold of you – answer the phone / email / tweet quickly.

Lesson 5:  Make sure that the person who takes calls from customers actually enjoys talking with and helping people out.  Notice that the lady on the phone did more than she needed to do, she used her knowledge to be helpful – she advised me not to come into the repair centre at lunchtime.   If she had not told me this then it is likely that I would have turned up at that time and been upset with the wait time and/or having to go back another time. By being proactive she tilted the scale towards a positive customer experience rather than a negative one. 

Lesson 6: If a customer contact you then he/she has a ‘problem’ needs a ‘job’ done and clearly thinks that you can help him/her get that job done.  Do the job there and then.  If this is not possible then clearly spell out (paint the picture) of the route the customer can take to get his/her job done.  Make sure that this route has been thought through and designed to occur as reasonable and wherever possible EASY!

Lesson 7: Ensure that your customer facing people in call-centres work in an environment where the customer experience is primary and AHT is secondary.  Not the other way around!

Next, I drove to K2 Global’s offices, call centre and repair centre in Maidenhead – a small building in an industrial estate.  Upon entering the office, I found myself confused: there was no receptionist, no signposting to guide me to the right person, just two doors (one marked “call centre”, the other marked “repair workshop”) with number pad locks on them and some stairs leading upstairs.  I tried the stairs and found myself facing another door with the a number pad lock on it.

Using logic and seeing no other way of going about things, I knocked on the door of the “repair workshop” and waited.  No response, so I knocked again, this time I saw a blond lady wearing a pink top.  She smiled at me and waved at me suggesting that I should come into the workshop.  Surprise: the door had a lock (and I had assumed that it was locked) and yet the door was not locked.

Lesson 8.  Take the time to look at your business through you customers eyes and use that to ‘signpost’ correctly. Show the customer what path she needs to follow and in particular make it clear what the next step is.  Poor signposting confuses the customer, causes the customer to experience stress and often to waste time trying to figure out what to do or doing the wrong things. This is particularly important on websites where the next website is just a click away!

Walking into the workshop I was greeted by Stephanie. I showed her the Samsonite cabin suitcase, she took a look at it and told me that she could repair it.  I asked her how much it would cost and she told me it was free if I had the right paperwork.  I didn’t have the paperwork and so I asked her how much it would cost to repair it, she told me between £10 and £15.  That occurred as a reasonable price.   Looking around the workshop I noticed many suitcases lying around and I noticed a man busy repairing a suitcase.  So I assumed that I’d have to leave my suitcase, wait for it to be repaired, get a call then come back, pay and pick up my suitcase.  This was something that I really did not want to do.  So I asked Stephanie if she could repair it there and then.  To my delight she said yes and got busy on the work.  I asked her if I could watch and she said yes so I stood next to her watching her repair by suitcase.

Lesson 9:  Provide that little extra that surprises and delights the customer. Stan Phelps calls this “Marketing Lagniappe”.  It is defined as “a creole word, originating in Louisiana and literally translated means ‘the gift’.  It refers to a small unexpected extra gift or benefit presented by a store owner to a customer at the time of purchase. The people of Louisiana have embraced the term and have broadened the definition to include any time a little something extra is given.”

I struck up a conversation with Stephanie and Peter – the man opposite us repairing the suitcases.  We talked about luggage and how it is possible to own/run a business repairing luggage.  I learned from Peter and Stephanie that the key driver of repairs is the way that luggage is thrown around at airports by baggage handlers.  Now that made sense.  My suitcase had no problems for years because I was carrying it on and off the plane carefully.  Then on my last three trips I had checked it in and hey presto it is damaged!  Now I knew what to do if I want to protect my luggage – take it on the plane with me.  We talked about the state of the economy and the impact it is having on ordinary people, ordinary lives.  We talked about politicians…. We LAUGHED together.  And within 10 minutes my suitcase was fixed.

Lesson 10:  Take the opportunity to educate your customers so that you enrich their lives and leave them better off.  If you are any good at your business then you will know more about certain domains of the world than your customer.  You can use what you know to contribute to the lives of your customers – leave them better off.  For example, insurance companies can educate customers on how to take care of their health or how best to deal with health issues just like Shelley Beaumont of HCML did with me.  Amazon has both improved the customer experience and built a sales engine through its recommendation engine……  I strive to do this during my consulting and coaching engagements.

Stephanie punched in the details into the repair system, told me that the cost came to £10.80, printed out two invoices and took me through to the ‘Call-Centre” – she explained that she was not allowed to take payments just repair suitcases.  I thanked Stephanie and promised to write about her (and how marvellous she is).  Then I paid and left with a HUGE smile on my face and spring in my footsteps.  Why? My problem was fixed, the ‘job’ that I had come to get done was done.  I learned something interesting about the luggage business.  I throughly enjoyed the way that I was treated by Stephanie and Paul:  Stephanie, Paul and I had shared views and laughed together!  And all of this in a total time of about 15 minutes!

Lesson 11:  People are the difference that makes the difference so create a context and an environment in which your people can be great with customers.  I have spent 20+ years working in all kinds of businesses and I can state with absolute confidence that most people want to do a good job, to work for a company and people that inspire them, to provide good service and it do it in way that occurs as natural – playful rather than heavy, burdensome, meaningless and stressful.  How many unsung heroes do you have in your business?  I wonder if Stephanie has ever got an acknowledgment for how great she is?  Well, I acknowledge you Stephanie – I hope that this post does you justice.  To me, you occur as fabulous!

Lesson 12:  Bring customers into the heart of your business, let them talk with your people, let them share stories with your people, let them hear the genuine voices of your people, let them see how you do what you do.  If you cannot do this in the offline world then use digital technologies.

Lesson 13:  Laughter is a great sign of an emotional bond between you and your customers. When your customer is laughing with you (and you with the customer) rather than laughing at you then that is a sure sign that barriers have come down: you have entered into each others inner lives (even if just a little) and you have made that important emotional connection.  When is the last time your customers laughed with you?

Lesson 14:  Cycle time matters – do the ‘job’ that the customer is ‘hiring you to do’ quickly.  In the developed economies people have lost the capacity to wait – they expect instant response, instant results.  Furthermore, whilst many in these economies have done well in terms of income they have done badly in terms of time: they are time starved – not enough time to do all that I need and want to do.  So help your customers out and do it right first time and do it quickly.  As I write this I get present to how delighted I was that I simply walked into the repair shop, no queuing, no waiting, just talking to the right person first time and getting the job done in a flash!