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Case study in email response: Amazon.com

So I was shopping for a book, and I chose the famous patented one-click order, and then I realized I would need the book faster than usual, so I went to My Account and changed the shipping options.

Or so I thought.

Turns out--I figured out after an hour of fiddling--once you start a one-click order, you cannot change the settings for that order.

Any changes you make will only apply to the next order.

What I now realize I should have done is cancel that order and start over.

But I was too stupid to do that. (Not that the labels warned me that changing my shipping options didn't really change my shipping options right away).

When I got the confirming e-mail for my order, I discovered that I was going to be getting the order at the usual pace (three to five business days, which turns out to be fairly cheap). I immediately e-mailed them--long before the warehouse got around to packing up the order. I asked them to change the shipping option for that order, and I told them my sad story.

I got an answer back right away. The speed was great. But the customer support person had just copied and pasted the instructions for changing your shipping options in your account.

I knew how to do that.

I had already said I had done that. It just didn't work--or at least, it didn't work right away, the way I thought it would.

So I wrote back, with a longer version of my tale, apologizing for not having explained my situation very clearly, and begging, yes, begging them to speed up the order.

I got back a very friendly refusal. Gosh, this writer really cared. She wanted me to know she was upset that she just couldn't help, because the order was underway, and, well, there was nothing she could do. She signed her real name, and invited me to write her if there was anything else she could help me with.

I replied.

Within a few hours, I got a note thanking me for writing, and apologizing for the difficulty.

I've passed your message along to the appropriate people in our company--I know they will want to hear about your experience. We truly value customer feedback such as yours, as it helps us continue to improve the service we provide.

Well, having seen how well Amazon.com adapts itself to customer demands, morphing this way and that, I can believe that "the appropriate people" do actually listen, despite the slightly smarmy tone.

Then the writer issued another apology:

I am really truly sorry that we were not able to fulfill your expectations for this level of service. I hope that you will honor us with another opportunity to prove the quality of our service to you in the future.

Well, OK. I am mollified. I like all those apologies, and I like the fact that the writer is not just stonewalling, or acting like I am an idiot. At least the writer makes an effort to pretend to care. I particularly like the "really truly" part.

But then the writer copied and pasted instructions on adding items, changing quantities, and canceling a 1-Click order--none of which I had asked about. I wonder why.

Perhaps the writer just wanted to be helpful, and thought these boilerplate paragraphs were the closest to my situation.

Perhaps the writer didn't read my e-mail very carefully.

I was left with mixed feelings: pleased at the speed and volume of response, vertutzt that the responses never addressed the problem I had raised.

Turns out the package arrived within three days, which was fine. I couldn't have read the book when I originally planned to. The crisis turned out to be nothing special, so my anger faded, and I have no reason to nurse a grudge.

In fact, what stays with me was the "really truly" emotion that the three different writers put into their e-mails. I had made contact, even though at an odd angle.

That's what sticks with me: despite the weird balkiness of one part of their software, I feel an even deeper connection with the folks at Amazon.





Many of the problems, and most of the lawsuits, that result from employee use of computers in the workplace revolve around electronic mail.
--Michael R. Overly, e-Policy.

I'm hoping you get back to me soon, before this bug crawls all over me.


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