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A lesson in doing customer service well: Thanks, Amazon

I am often astounded by the lack of customer service in many organizations, particularly in the services environment.  We all have horror stories and more than a few of us (myself included) are not shy about complaining publicly about it when things go wrong.  Although, sadly, this doesn’t usually change the offending company’s behavior.  My belief is that we should equally vehemently praise a company when it does a good job in responding to customer needs.
Last month, I purchased a new 2nd generation Kindle.  I’ve been meaning to for a while, but finally got around to it in mid-June.  It is a great device and a substantial improvement over the 1st gen device.  The size, speed, and design particularly the navigation button placement are vastly improved.  I’m also a HUGE fan of the Whispersync service with my iPhone Kindle app.  If only Amazon would implement native EPUB support, but that’s another matter….  When I purchased it last month the price was $359 — a lot for a reader, but in all honesty, I needed a new toy!  Seriously, anyone in publishing should be paying very close attention to what is taking place in the ebook space, since it will radically transform our industry in the coming years.  Having a e-reader and engaging with electronic books is critical to understanding these changes and planning for the future and every publishing executive should have one and use it regularly.  So, while not exactly pleased with the price, I saw it as an investment in staying abreast of technology in our community.

Last Thursday, while in the cab on my way to a meeting of NISO’s Architecture Committee at the University of Chicago, I read a twitter post that Amazon had just dropped the price of the Kindle to $299.  A wise move, I thought from the perspective of boosting marketshare and increasing adoption.  Few apart from tech early adopters, publishing execs and some commuters who read vericiously would see the value at nearly $400.  As the price drops, the value becomes more apparent.  A few have mentioned a price point of $199 as the point where ebook readers will take off in a mass market way.  My feeling is that somewhere under $100 is the point at which you’ll start to see them everywhere.  Based on the estimated cost to produce the current generation Kindle of about $185, the price is not unreasonable, but still more than most people will shell out.  There’s been some analysis about what the price drop means and whether it’s a good sign or bad for ebook market. In all liklihood, it is a good sign with increasing sales (or even competition from different readers) comes efficiencies of scale, which lead to lower prices.  Since the Kindle 2 was just released in late February, it is unlikely that there is a 3rd gen product coming out the door from Amazon in the coming months.

At first, this price drop irritated me–personally–quite a bit.  If only I’d waited another couple weeks, I thought at first, I would have saved myself the $60.  Not the end of the world, but frustrating none-the-less.  However, word quickly spread online that Amazon would refund those who had purchased the device in the 30 days prior to the price change if you contacted customer service. Although I couldn’t find any specific information about the refund on the Amazon site, I knew from the postings online that contacting customer service would respond if queried.  And this is where Amazon deserves a fair amount of praise.  Thursday evening at around 11:00 pm, I sent an email to their customer service department:

I purchased a Kindle 2 on June 13th. I’ve noticed that Amazon has dropped the price of the new Kindle by $60 today.  It has been circulating on various blogs and postings that if someone purchased a Kindle in the last 30 days (which I have), Amazon was issuing refunds on the $60 difference.  If this is correct, how do I go about requesting that refund?

As a general customer service suggestion, I can find no information about this policy anywhere on your site.  Also, since your company is extremely efficient at tracking orders, couldn’t you make this account adjustment automatically, without having customers go through the hassle of tracking customer service down and requesting the refund?  Obviously, not in Amazon’s financial best interest, but it would be easy and simple as well as good PR if you did it automatically.  Everyone knows you have and store this information.  Why couldn’t you make it easier?  Just a thought from a former marketing executive and publishing professional.

With thanks,

Todd

By 9:30 the next morning, I’d received the following response:

Hello,

Thanks for contacting us about the recent price change for Kindle (Latest Generation). I’ve reviewed your order and see the price change occurred within 30 days from the time your Kindle order shipped.

Because of the circumstances, I’ll issue a refund for the price difference in the amount of $60. You should see the refund in the next 2-3 business days.

Thanks for your comments about refunding automatically to customers. We’ll consider your feedback as we plan further improvements.

Customer feedback like yours really helps us continue to improve our store and provide better service to our customers. Thanks for taking time to offer us your thoughts. I appreciate your thoughts, and I’ll be sure to pass your suggestion along.

And by 4:30 the $60 refund had been redeposited into my account.  Now, I certainly feel for those who’d missed the 30-day deadline for the refund.  Actually, the person who passed the information onto me about the refunds had actually missed the deadline by about a week and so wasn’t able to get the refund despite pleading with Amazon.  However, Amazon has always had a policy of 30-day returns and price change refunds, so this fits within established practice for them.  Regardless, I was extremely pleased with the customer service responsiveness of Amazon.  For all of my flaming companies who don’t do customer service well, I thought it was only fair to highlight a company that had done something well.  Now, if only my credit card company would pay attention…

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