Customer Experience: Is Amazon Going Downhill?

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My Good-ish Experience

I rented some movies so that I could watch them over the Christmas break. This didn’t work out with two movies. In the midst of watching these issues cropped up. And the screen advised me to contact Amazon Customer Support. So I did.

I initiated the contact via online chat because that is what Amazon has decided. As I work in the Customer arena I quickly figured out I was dealing with a ‘dumb’ bot – fit only for a small number of rigid scenarios.  My issue didn’t fit within this frame so I asked, in writing, to be put through to a human being.  I was – yet wasted minutes unnecessarily and didn’t appreciate this.

Question: If the customer is genuinely king then why didn’t Amazon treat me like one?  Why didn’t Amazon treat me like an adult: give me the option of going directly to a human being via chat, via telephone, or via email?



Answer: Amazon’s focus is clearly on reducing/containing the costs associated with customer interactions. Not on delivering good customer service, nor on enabling/facilitating a great customer experience.

Now, I am through to a human being via online chat. I describe my problem, provide the relevant details, then wait.  After a few minutes, this human being asks me for the order numbers. I find the orders and respond with the order numbers. After a few minutes, I am told that I have been refunded the money I have paid for these orders. I write back “I am not interested in the money. I contacted you to get the issue fixed. The issue is that I paid to watch these movies. I cannot watch them as there is an error. I have been asked to contact you. I have and I expect you to fix it so that I can watch these movies. I wait more than a few minutes. Finally, I am told that this issue is fixed. I thank this person and disconnect from the chat.

Question: Why did this person seek to refund me the money as opposed to addressing the issue that I was facing?

Answer: Because it was easier/quicker to refund the money than to fix the issue. Which is to say that the priority was to get me off the chat then to do that which was necessary to ‘deliver’ a good customer experience. This leads to question the metrics that are used to measure the performance metrics that are being used by Amazon to drive customer interactions.

I found myself happy and grateful. Why?  Because I got the outcome I had desired – to watch these movies with family & friends. Yet, the bad taste to do with the experience of getting to this outcome still clings.  In the past, it was not this hard to get good customer service from Amazon.

The Bad Experience

I order an electronics product and I am given a delivery date that falls in the next two days. That works for me. The product does not turn up. Instead, I get a message saying that there is an issue with my delivery but it’s on its way and will arrive shortly. It doesn’t – a week goes by. I have seen this before and I know what to do:  I go cancel the original order and place a fresh order for exactly the same product.  This new order is fulfilled the next day.

After a few days, I notice that Amazon has not refunded me for the order Amazon has failed to deliver and which I have canceled. So I contact Amazon via online chat. The bot is there, I ask to be put through to a human being.  After a few minutes, I am engaged in an online chat with a human being. I describe my issue: clearly stating what it is that I want: refund for the non-fulfilled canceled order.

What do I get in return? A bunch of reasons why that cannot happen: the product has to be found, then it has to find its way back to Amazon warehouse, only then can the order be canceled and the refund issued.

I point out the facts: 1) I order a product and Amazon supplied a delivery date; 2) Amazon failed to deliver that product; 3) I canceled that order and placed a new order…. And I want a refund on the basis.  What is Amazon’s response? To repeat that which has already been communicated to me: the Amazon process.



At this point, I find that I have had enough of this nonsense – Amazon has forked up and instead of fixing the issue is wasting my time. I point out my rights and state that I expect a refund or proof that Amazon has delivered that product to me – my signature will suffice.  The person on the other end of this online chat relents and issues me with that refund.

Question: Why is it that Amazon ‘delivered’ such a poor customer experience? Why has this organization turned a loyal customer to a reluctant customer?

Answer: Amazon is now infected with that ‘disease’ that infects organizations that are successful and grow large: focus on their policies, their operations, their needs/wants, and a blindness to the impact of these on the Customer Experience.

The Ugly Experience

I bought a set of electronics products as gifts for family members a couple of days before Christmas. A day or so after Christmas one of these family members noticed a price reduction on that product. And asked me to get that price reduction. Other family members were listening and wanted the same.

I contacted Amazon support and eventually found myself on the telephone with an agent. I explained that I had bought a bunch of electronics product at price £x, and that the price had now been reduced to £y.  That I had another 28 days or so to send the products back to Amazon and get a refund.  And that I could reorder (right then) the exact products at the lower price. That following this course of action would just create work for Amazon and for me. So how about you, Amazon, credit my account (with a gift card) for the difference in price?

Amazon’s response? No, we don’t price match. If you want to get the benefit of the lower price then return the existing products, and re-order at the lower price.  That is what I did.

Why implement a policy that means that Amazon has to:

  • Pay the freight costs with returning multiple products?
  • Take receipt of multiple returns – as each product has to be returned on its own – and process each of these returns through the systems;
  • Pick and pack multiple orders;
  • Pay the costs of dispatching multiple orders – to replace those that had been returned;
  • Incur additional cost with ZERO financial benefits, and an incur negative customer goodwill?

Honestly, I cannot explain this. This strikes me as stupidity: shooting yourself in the foot deliberately. The kind of short-sightedness and stupidity for which Brexit is the word.



Summing up these experiences what has Amazon achieved?  Turn me from a happy (even delighted customer in the past) into a dissatisfied customer. Dissatisfied enough to share his experience with the world.  Will I continue to buy from Amazon? Yes, but reluctantly.  As and when a better option comes along I will take it.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time…

29 COMMENTS

  1. I absolutely agree the experience described above was negative.
    Amazon fails to satisfy customers’ needs in many cases, according to some reports like the one above.
    But the main problem here, I suppose, is in poor communication within the company.
    The concept of understanding and satisfying of a customer should be realized by each and every employee throughout a company, that we can’t observe in these cases.
    Probably, that’s the supervising fault.
    And loosing customers’ trust as an aftermath.

  2. This commentary forces me to think about customer service in my industry. I’m not sure if our businesses realize the impact of helping our customers when they have a problem.

  3. I find your Brexit comment insulting. Many of us who voted to leave the EU did so for long term interests and fundamental sovereignty and not for short term economic benefit. There is more to life than money.

    As for Amazon, I use them regularly because they are so convenient and in my experience, reliable.

    I can, however, understand why in your experience, you think Amazon is going downhill.

  4. Jeff Bezos needs to be given credit for redefining the way the world shops. Over the last few years, their focus appears to be almost exclusively on convenience, and their financials suggest that it’s been serving them well. Ironically, however, by defining customer experience based on convenience alone, they have begun creating increasing amounts of friction with customers who don’t want to just be processed.

    I am seeing a rapidly increasing number of articles and posts indicating a growing disenchantment with Amazon. Jeff Bezos went on record in November with a prediction that Amazon will ultimately fail, and told his employees that the only way to prevent this will be to “obsess over customers.”

    There is no sign that they are doing this. But there are very clear signs, as Maz points out, that they are obsessing over cost control.

  5. I recently had a horrible Amazon moment as well. I had been shopping for an executive desk for my new home and found one on Amazon. I liked it and they offered installation services as well. So, I paid for the installation service. This is service provided by Amazon home services. Amazon contracts local providers who deliver and install the desk. However, when the desk arrived, their definition of installing it was simply to drop the box of desk pieces in my home office and leave. I immediately called Amazon and they indicated the desk should have been put together by the local delivery firm. It was not and the local delivery firm told Amazon they had put the desk together. I got an agent right away who of course looked at everything, put me on hold for 10 minutes to research the problem and then transferred me to their Home Services call center (a cold transfer). That gentleman listened to my problem, indicated that he would contact local providers of this service and find someone that day to schedule for my installation. He assured me he would have an email to me within 24 hours with a schedule.

    That email never came and I called a second time. A different agent took 10 minutes to research the problem and then transferred me to the Home Services call center (cold transfer again) where I had to explain it one more time. At this point I told the agent she had two choices – fulfill their commitment to build the desk or refund me my money. She argued with me that I had signed the shipping bill of lading stating the desk was delivered. I pointed out to her that the delivery team told me that someone else would build the desk. They obviously lied as they did not want to do the work. She harped on the signature issue 3 more times and after that I had to get angry with her to fix their issue and make things right for me. 10 more minutes of this back and forth with her and she transferred me to Special Account Services.

    This time it was a warm transfer and the agent spoke clearly and intelligently. She listened to my issue and asked if I wanted to return the desk or get a refund for the installation service. I told her I wanted to just get the refund. Then she asked the obvious question – why didn’t the agent in Home Services simply do the previous week or even today? She put me on hold for few minutes to research everything and came back with a solution. She refunded my installation fees and then gave me a credit on my Amazon account for the hassles they put me through. She apologized for the mistake and made me whole again. Of course I now have to put together my desk, but at least I know it will be done right.

    The general agents and home service agents had no idea what they could or should do. They wanted to get me off the phone as quickly as possible. It seems their whole focus is on average talk time versus first call resolution. It was less about satisfying my needs and more about meeting their goals. Everyone I spoke with was friendly, but it was not until I got to the special services desk that I found someone that could actually make a decision.

  6. I first of all appreciate your explicit recount of the series of experiences. This type of depiction not only provides the CX community and customers in general with fodder for lively discussion but also provides the provider (Amazon in this case) with actionable data to use for process improvements. The question though seems to be whether or not Amazon remains interested in this type of improvement. The answer seems to lean toward “NO”. You bring up a good substantiating point when asking why you were not treated like a king if in fact, that’s how the company characterizes customers? So the question about AI as a tool comes up in my mind. I still believe that AI, when deployed properly can be a game changer but deploying it to resolve customer problems is not the right application. Once a problem exists the customer is too far along in to the customer journey for a bot to be able to understand the dynamics that have led to the issue. Therefore, it is only likely to exacerbate the issue as opposed to resolving it. Which also holds true in your examples. Instead, AI can be most effectively used early in the customer journey to help a customer efficiently navigate the journey to yield a higher likelihood for a positive experience. I can also say that as a long time and loyal Amazon customer I too am concerned with how the company is prioritizing the CX. Time will tell.

  7. Is Amazon Going Downhill?
    In my opinion, it is not going downhill, here is why and what are my expectations:
    This is a result of fast growth that every company goes through. As Amazon is smart marketer and business savvy, I expect them to, or need to, do the following:
    1. Take a breather to analyze their reviews and customer feedback.
    2. Reassess their customer facing processes and improve their efficiencies with an eye on customer satisfaction
    3. Review the human element of their service, hire qualified people and provide appropriate training
    4. Work on the technology aspects of their Bots and do not place them in service until either they learn enough to take care of most customer cases, or implement a quick way to switch to human support. The bots learn with time, and they become more intelligent to handle most situations that arise.

  8. I feel your pain, and your disappointment. Truly stakeholder-centric companies are artfully blending both human touch and science where customer experience is concerned, and making sure that their value priorities are in order: http://www.mktginsight.com/digital-transformation-is-additive. Once a leader, Amazon now has “issues”.

    Not just the focus, but the enterprise-wide obsession, needs to be on owning the customer’s issue, irrespective of engagement channel. Amazon’s suite of customer support mechanics are, as you note, beginning to lag behind. To stay contemporary and competitive, and to keep the company from turning into Sears or Sprint, Amazon should reset its priorities around identifying what it takes, functionally and emotionally, to consistently deliver superior customer value.

  9. Dear John Mateker, you know I can suggest two options:
    1. Not whole the company understands the value of each and every customer;
    2. The situation reflects the inner company’s policy about controversial issues with patient/impatient clients. Once you prove you don’t give up they satisfy your need. But there is a lot of customers who don’t want to wait and argue. Considering whole the amount of sales it might be a huge profit that they get from the second ones.
    In my view, of course.

  10. Your article is the true representation of Amazon today. I believe that after achieving so much they have begun to bite off more than they can chew.
    Amazon is driving their customers so mad, that those poor frustrated people have no choice but to look for reassurance through random posts scattered around the web (no disrespect for your article).
    …I feel better now.

  11. Wow, Maz. I am amazed.
    When I wrote in a similar vein, I was told by bloggers that this was an Indian experience. In the US this does not happen.
    Loic Ple talked about Value destruction, and I did about my experience.
    Question is, are they listening?
    If yes, what are they doing?
    if not, why not

  12. Great article. I’ve had these exact same issues (well, not the price guarantee one) and the exact same hassles with Amazon. Additionally now (in a major metropolitan area, not somewhere remote) Amazon only delivers about 50% of the time on time. This is with “Amazon fulfillment” too, not individual sellers.

    Amazon has grown a ton and I’m sure is doing well financially. But they are no longer pleasant to work with, rather I regret almost every purchase because of the hassles and focus on purchasing elsewhere whenever I can. (Amazon continues to have a great UI for searching and finding well-reviewed products as long as I purchase the final item elsewhere.)

  13. I have had surprisingly negative experiences with Amazon. I first began shopping with them way back in 1997, and have been a frequent shopper over the years. I was invited by Amazon to become a charter member of their Vine program. I adhered to all Vine terms and conditions. I was also a member of Amazon Prime since its inception. A few days ago, I received a terse email informing me that I was no longer a Vine member, and could not access any Vine items. It was stated I did not adhere to one of their conditions, but they would not identify which. I reviewed my entire Vine history and each item was treated as the conditions of the program specified. I inquired and received a second email with a totally different reason (they ‘rotate’ based upon reviews). A third and final email was just curt and rude. The only reason that might be applicable is that last October (2018), after Amazon announced its third increase in the Prime membership (20%), I opted out and have reduced my purchases. The Prime so-called ‘free’ shipping is a joke. I went over the last 3 years of purchases and found that I was paying, on average, more than the actual shipping cost. Plus, only some items are eligible for Prime shipping, and these items are higher priced than the same items elsewhere. Plus, Amazon collects state sales tax, which is NOT required by law in my state (N.C.). I asked why they were collecting sales tax when it was not legally required and they literally responded with “we cannot tell you the reason.” I still have that email from them. I won’t patronize them anymore. Greed destroys all good things eventually.

  14. I keep going back to people who love Amazon…great when everything works, not thereafter
    Fundamentals, ease of contacting, getting redressal is all poor. This is true of many of the companies many of you consult for….but you only see the positives

  15. I used to think Amazon was great. It seemed like they were concerned about doing right by their customers. But then I started noticing things like what you mentioned.

    I ordered a graphic novel which had issues. When I had them call me some guy in Jamaica said “it’s not our problem”. I wrote Jeff Bezos about it and had an exec correct the problem.

    Other issues started appearing with returns, etc. It didn’t happen often enough so I though these were just isolated incidents. But they became more and more frequent.

    This last month is the final straw. I ordered a complete TV show box set that was listed as new. When I got it, it was clearly used. I complained to Jeff, talked to an exec, returned it, and ordered another. This was also used.

    I was really irate at this point. I told Jeff I would take Amazon to local civil court. The exec talked to me again, I got a gift card, ordered some other items. I ordered the box set again from a different seller. Guess what? USED!

    Exec and various reps blamed sellers, but the sellers aren’t to blame. Both sellers use Amazon to fill orders, which means Amazon pulled wrong items. I’ve seen sellers on Amazon forums complain they got bad reviews for customers getting used items even though sellers supplied Amazon with new product. What’s happening is that people send something back and Amazon repackages it as new, and the seller gets blamed for it.

    Wrote Jeff and exec, expressed anger about getting another used set, and also that the items I ordered with a gift card a week ago hadn’t shipped. Was told by exec that the items ordered with the gift card didn’t ship due to an item in the order not being ready. Before, Amazon would send out what was ready and ship other items later as they were available. No more.

    Got sick of waiting for a response from exec regarding box set, contacted rep through online chat. Rep said they would get my order shipped out 2 day shipping. Order has not shipped, despite having 5 business hours til end of day.

  16. “Value drives re-purchase not satisfaction or experience.” I don’t know your source for this, but I can find nothing to support it. However, I can find many studies that show the opposite. For example:

    “A negative customer experience is the reason 86 percent of consumers quit doing business with a company (Customer Experience Impact Report).”

    https://www.inc.com/andrew-thomas/the-hidden-ratio-that-could-make-or-break-your-company.html

    If you can provide links or sources that show your point, I would be happy to read them.

  17. Agreed Dennis. We don’t have to look much farther than the work the Temkin Group released last fall – not to mention the CustomerThink research. I’ve never seen anything to suggest that there is no correlation between cx and business success.

  18. Dennis:
    This was first discussed by Ray Kordupleski in the late 1980s. They got 96% satisfaction, and gave everyone bonuses and 3 months later found that they lost 6 points of market share and had to fire 20000 workers. This is when they realised satisfaction did not correlate to loyalty. That is when they discovered value, which is benefits/cost that co-related to loyalty. Sadly people measure satisfaction and experience is generally measured by satisfaction of the experience.
    Read, Ray Kordupleski, Mastering Customer Value Management, Pinnaflex,
    Gautam Mahajan, Customer Value Investment, Sage
    Kordupleski and Vogel, The Right Choice—What Does it Mean? Groundbreaking Research from the Early Days of Customer Value Management, Journal of Creating Value, 1(1) 3-22
    Also, if you need more, read Bradley Gale’s works, the PIMS reports and the data from the Strategic Planning Institute on Value and ROI, Value and Market share etc over 1000 American companies.

  19. Shaun, you have bad experiences with Amazon, but you continue to do business with them. Why? Only because they create value for your next purchase.
    According to you a bad experience will prevent re-purchase. A terrible experience might prevent yu from doing business and only if you have a better alternative.
    The bad experience will be factored into your value equation.

  20. “Sadly people measure satisfaction and experience is generally measured by satisfaction of the experience.”

    Why is it ‘sad’ that people measure satisfaction by their experience? Experience includes the product or service as well as everything associated with the provision of a product or service. It would only seem ‘sad’ to me from a customer standpoint if there were no alternatives and they had to put up with it without recourse. That any company would allow its customer service to deteriorate is sad, and that people would simply resign themselves to it and keep patronizing such a place is, to me anyway, the saddest aspect of it all.

    When a company, and Amazon now fits this, no longer offers any competitive value relative to alternatives, other factors assume greater importance. That certainly is the case with me for decades and with many others. Setting aside Amazon’s deteriorating customer service (if one chooses to, unlike me), their pricing has increased on virtually every item I’ve been accustomed to purchasing from them over the years. It is relatively easy to find a more attractive alternative at less cost on most anything now. Amazon’s prices continue to increase, the number of items eligible for ‘free’ (ha ha) shipping via the Prime service (which one must now pay $119 up front) are fewer, with a higher per item cost compared to other venues.

    As Mr. Belding correctly notes, the Temkin Group did a solid job in its analysis. Perceptions of people change; nothing is static in the world of commerce. There is more to life than a perceived ‘good deal’ for many people, believe it or not. Why, there are still people alive that don’t find the almighty dollar the most important thing in the world, believe it or not.

  21. Whether “value” or “experience” is perceived as good or bad depends on customer expectations. Whether a customer decides to buy elsewhere depends on competitive alternatives.

    Ryanair has poor customer satisfaction ratings, and nobody says they epitomize “great CX.” (See http://customerthink.com/ryanair-can-low-prices-plus-unhappy-customers-equal-cx-success-story/.) But the company is growing and successful delivering what customers value most — cheap flights.

    I have generally had good experiences with Amazon, so no I don’t personally think they are going downhill. But I am concerned about how big and powerful Amazon is getting. And other retailers are catching up. So, even though I would rate Amazon highly, I am shopping more elsewhere — mostly direct with brands I like.

    In this case, neither “value” nor “experience” captures why I’m changing my shopping habits. In another example, our family and business recently changed banks. Both value and experience were good. We left because we didn’t trust the bank any more after numerous scandals with customers and employees.

    CSAT and NPS are the two most popular general-purpose loyalty metrics. And academic research has found CSAT works pretty well. But my research (see http://customerthink.com/customer-experience-at-a-crossroads/) finds advanced CX initiatives are more likely to use metrics they know “drives” (is correlated with) key business outcomes. Like one telco I know that uses liklihood to recommend. Others have found that a custom metric works best to “predict” business results they want.

    Bob Hayes has a great article on what make a good customer metric (http://customerthink.com/4-criteria-for-evaluating-your-customer-feedback-metrics/)
    1. Customer metric is defined in unambiguous terms.
    2. Customer metric’s scoring algorithm is clear, precise.
    3. Customer metric has good measurement properties.
    4. The customer metric provides new, useful insights.

    So, Gautam, I wonder if the example you cite with ATT is due to using the wrong metric. Or perhaps, asking the CSAT question poorly. Can you share any specifics?

  22. “I have generally had good experiences with Amazon, so no I don’t personally think they are going downhill. But I am concerned about how big and powerful Amazon is getting.”

    I’d become accustomed to very good service from Amazon; no complaints at all from the time I first purchased from then in 1997 until the past couple of years. I then had fairly high expectations of good customer service as a matter of routine, but as noted in the specifics contained in earlier posts, the high level of satisfaction began to plummet, around the time they began to collect state taxes that was not required under any law. It seemed that Amazon was pitching a new facility to various state localities at that time to build an expansion of their cloud technology; collected sales tax was seen to be an effort to curry favor with the state (in my case, North Carolina) with tax breaks and so forth, as Amazon was considering a huge track of land south of Charlotte, in an area called Salisbury. I noticed a change in their usual good customer service that, at least for me, has continued to deteriorate. Given the fact that the vast majority of things I normally would have purchased from Amazon have been found from other merchants for less per item, no tax and usually free shipping (no need to pay $120 up front for “free” shipping on only certain items).

    So for me, the increase in prices for items I had frequently purchased from Amazon before, the availability of alternate sources at less cost and with better customer service, makes the loss of Amazon quite tolerable; in fact, it seems to be saving me money while dispensing with the irritation of plummeting customer service. Naturally, others may have different expectations and experiences. And although only anecdotal, friends and relatives of mine have mentioned to me they see Amazon’s service deteriorate while prices rise. Who among us hasn’t seen that before?

  23. Gautam, I’m probably a bad example to use in reference to Amazon loyalty 🙂 .

    Regardless, when you said that “value drives re-purchase not satisfaction or experience,” it seemed to suggest that experience isn’t part of the value equation. I would argue that it is, and has in fact become by far the dominant part.

  24. Bob –

    I’m in agreement with just about all of your perspectives, especially with trying to apply CSAT as a universal metric, because it is often too superficial, functional, transactional, and attitudinal to be of real use.. My one reservation is over the concept of correlation. Correlation analysis, or simple regression, can be a red herring approach when trying to coax insights from customer research: https://customerthink.com/correlation_is_not_causation_big_data_challenges_and_related_truths_that_will_impact_business_s/

    For me, ‘drivers’ of behavior, as a way to understand potential downstream action, is more closely akin to causation. And, for causation, I’m more comfortable running a limited number of value indicators (competitive set, emotional connection, brand favorability, future purchase intent, positive/negative informal WOM, etc.) through a multivariate device like structured equation modeling.

  25. Shaun,
    You are right
    Experience, satisfaction and emotions, brand, cost, non-price terms are all part of the value equation. You measure this through Customer Value Added versus competitive offers

    Michael: I agree with you that CSAT is not enough for re-purchase. Do you buy because of your behaviour pattern? You buy because the perceived benefits and the perceived costs are favorable in your perception

    Dennis: I say sadly because measuring satisfaction is not enough. I am not against this measurement, but sadly, it is not sufficient for re-purchase

    Bob, you r definition of value seems to be benefits (or did you mean cost). Value is the combination of the two and takes into account your perception of the trust (fraud) in the bank. The value got reduced because of the perception of the bank.

  26. Gautam, you say value includes trust and I agree. But CX also includes trust, because the experience includes everything, according to most CX experts.

    From my math days, if two variables are equal to the same things, then the variables are just two names for the same thing.

    So value = experience.

    What strikes me as a better differentiation between CVM and CXM is
    1. Choice of metrics. As I understand from our prior conversations, CVM is based on likelihood to buy or recommend. CX programs tend to use these plus CSAT, NPS (based on LTR), and custom metrics.
    2. Comparison to competitors. In the recent CX study, about half of all respondents reported tracking at least one of their loyalty metrics vs. competitors.

    Both “experience” and “value” can be used in an expansive or limited way.

  27. Bob:
    Value and experience both include trust and a host of other items. Therefore Value is not just trust, and experience is not just trust. Trust and brand form part of value, as much as price. Value is always measured against competition.
    As an aside, bothe AMA (American Marketing Association)and Phil Kotler have been saying marketing is creating Customer Value (which includes experience). If the leaders in the industry are saying this, then there are a bunch of people who are practising this, and not arguing about experience or value. Experience is one part of the value equation.

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