Amazon Customer Service is Becoming More Like Comcast

I have been an Amazon customer for I would guess over 15 years.  The last few years I have been a Prime member.  Over that time I have been very pleased with them.  But today I had a pretty bad experience that I thought I would share.  I don’t know if it was just my turn in the barrel, or if their customer service is getting worse.

This past Friday (two days ago) I purchased some accounting software.  Quickbooks runs a little scam where they try to force people to pay an exorbitant amount every year just to keep their payroll option up to date.  Everyone hates them for it, but there are really no alternatives so all of us small business guys pony up the dough.  Just the yearly subscription for the payroll option alone is over $400.  One of the few ways to save money is to buy a brand new copy of the software which includes a year of payroll service.  You can usually get this in the $300 range so $50-$100 of savings is $50-$100 of savings.  Plus a smaller percentage goes to Intuit since you aren’t buying it directly so score one for the rebel alliance.

Recently Amazon had this software on sale for $215.  Great I say!  It is even a Prime item so it will come in two days and be delivered on Sunday no less.  Fantastic!  I loves me some Amazon! Normally I select slow shipment so as to save Amazon money, and sometimes in return they will give me a few digital credits.  You have to love free trade.

So of course I go to the mailbox on Sunday and there is the package just as promised.  The package that is.  Inside it is something entirely different than what I ordered.  It contained a French language version of Microsoft Office.  So I say to myself;  Mon Dieu!  What use is this?  I don’t want to write a surrender letter to anyone.  I already surrendered to Intuit and their extortionate upgrade policy, now the fates are just rubbing it in. Then I bring the software in, and to show I can be a good host to a foreign guest, I put it over by the coffee machine where I think will be most comfortable, and close the door to my office so that it cannot see any wicked commerce being conducted on a holiday weekend.

The next thing I do is go to Amazon and write a review so as to warn others that they may not get what they ordered.  I notice that at least one other person has already done so and had their review published.  I figure I will do the same so everyone knows it wasn’t just a picker having a bad day and there is a systemic problem they might want to avoid until Amazon cleans it all up.  It seems pretty apparent that one of their vendors either had a major malfunction or was running a scam where they try to pocket the difference between the two sets of software.  My money is on the latter since the bar-code label that was hand affixed did not match the software.  It looked very much like someone had a pretty good idea how to game the fulfillment system.

Oddly enough, a few minutes later Amazon sends a message saying they can’t publish the review since it addressed mainly the fulfillment rather than the product, even though they had already published a similar review.  OK, fair enough.  This is exactly the sort of thing I want see in a review before wasting my time ordering a vital product for my business, but I can see Amazon’s point.  I probably should have thought of that beforehand.

So of course next I go to Amazon and try to exchange the product so I can get a correct copy.  Their little automated return process is efficient, but even though at the beginning it seems to allow a return and exchange for the correct item, when I get to the end I find it will only allow a return for refund.

So next I try to contact Amazon customer support, and after Googling the contact page (which of course Amazon makes an effort to hide because God knows that never pisses anyone off and starts things off on the wrong foot)  I find myself online chatting with Ketone (name changed to protect the possibly innocent).

He informs me that even though it is a Prime item I actually bought it from someone else and Amazon only ships it so they cannot offer an exchange.  All of this is fine too.  Mistakes happen.  They never checked the product visually so they are owning up to it to the extent I will get a refund.  Fair enough.  And, as I mentioned, the bar-code which was put on the copy of Microsoft Office was actually for the product I ordered so I could see a lazy, or inattentive picker making that mistake.

Since they can’t offer an exchange, and they have a whole warehouse full of the item I want, I ask if I could at least re-order at the same price.  I am asked when I would re-order, and I say right now (well really 30 minutes ago was what I would have preferred).  So Ketone sends me over to —  somewhere which I guess is on the other side of the world where they dump troublemakers.  Why the hell they have to do that is beyond me.  Ketone was perfectly fine in my book.

So now I am chatting with Pooja, whose name I have not changed because he or she is an asshole. (Hi Pooja!)  I should note that if they had just told me before transferring that they could not honor the price then that would have been fine.  I suspect they got scammed by the seller too. But everyone is acting like they are going to be able to help me so I go and start another 30 minute session on the chat app.

Apparently Pooja knows nothing.  He (I feel better ragging on a guy) reviews the conversation that i had with the other representative and has to ask me for everything from the order number, to the item URL, to what I paid and what the current price is.  Then I have to do the math of telling him the price difference between what is advertised now and what it was two days ago.  It is almost like he doesn’t even have a computer, or he just amuses himself making people run and get stuff which should already be on his screen.  “Thatch, I need you to solve this third order differential equation for me before I can help you.”  So after I give Pooja everything that should have been automatically transferred over (given that I am supposedly dealing with one of the most tech savvy companies on the planet) he ultimately tells me that they cannot give me the same price.  Now had I been told this an hour ago it would not have been such a big deal.  But since so much time has been wasted, and since I just lost a big customer and am trimming expenses, I decide that my Prime membership is a luxury I can part with and ask Pooja to cancel it.

This is when Pooja, who is apparently judged on some metric which would count a membership cancellation against him, decides that he really does have access to my information and tells me that he cannot cancel my membership because my credit card has expired.  Well, I don’t have to tell you that this isn’t the case.  I am sitting there looking at my card expiration date on both the physical card and on Amazon’s own site.  So Pooja (who had no idea who I was, what my issue was, or what I wanted without me telling him up until the precise moment I told him I wanted to cancel my membership) suddenly pretends he knows exactly the status of my credit account with Amazon… only he is wrong.

Me: OK, I would like to cancel my Prime Membership please

After a long pause…

Pooja: I understand Thatch,
However I see that your card is expired.

Allowing that there might be a mix-up I ask him;

Me: Which card you do you have Pooja?
Pooja: The one you’ve signed up for prime membership.

Ah, the temporizing of those who have been caught, and who know they have been caught.
Me: And which would that be Pooja?
Pooja: Visa ****-0000

This number was correct so I know he is looking at the right card. It also makes me think he didn’t need to run me around previously looking things up for him.

Me: My expiration date is 06/19 for that card

And now he knows that I know.
Pooja: Okay. one moment.

Here we have a very long pause as he hopes I get tired and go away. Eventually he comes back and says…

Pooja: I’m so sorry, but we can’t offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
Pooja from has left the conversation.

And he gets the hell out of Dodge, or Mumbai, or wherever the hell he is without allowing any further back and forth.

As a business owner I hate it when my employees do stupid shit like this.  The whole process is frelled.  If you have to disappoint a customer you do it right up front and don’t make him dig to find it out.  And you sure don’t lie to them or make them do math problems for you (I was just kidding about the derivative… but if he had thought of it I wouldn’t have put it past him).  Just apologize, and if you can’t give them what they want to make it up (like the same item at the price you advertised) then give them something else.  Amazon could extend a Prime membership a month or two, or give some digital credits etc…  But instead they reached the point where a loyal customer had time to think about what he was getting for his money.  That is absolutely the last thing you want to have happen when someone is on auto-renewal.  It is a helluva lot easier to keep a customer than to get a new one.

This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things unless it forms a pattern.  But it was significant enough that I thought it was worth reporting.

Plus, it always feels better to tell on people.

So yeah, Comcast is still the worst company this side of the one that sells parkas in purgatory, but Amazon is no longer on the list of companies I would brag about either.




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  • Rbastid

    I tend to have a good run with Amazon customer support. Over 10 years ago I ordered an iPod and when I received it it had been pilfered by someone in the post office, they sent a new one without even asking for pictures or details.

    More recently I ordered a pair of Snow Boots that were on sale. I received them and they were too small. I called and talked to someone probably seated next to Pooja, I told him the website wouldn’t left me do an exchange (I’ve never been able to exchange even when it’s Amazon sold products, I think they have it there just to screw with us) and I wanted to make sure I got the sale price that was no longer active. He not only put in a new order for me at the sale price, he sent me a complete refund for the first pair and never sent a return label. So I got 2 for the price of 1 (both of which I’ve yet to actually wear)

    I was told once by a supervisor at DirecTV that these people (their help line) are literally reading from a book and aren’t allowed to do anything not in their script, and to always just ask for a supervisor. Also I stay away from the online help desk, it’s much easier to scream your way to success over the phone.

    • Peggy Coffey

      Always call and always speak to a supervisor
      .. But Amazon makes it nearly impossible to speak with anyone. It’s one thing I do hate about them.

    • Thatch

      Yeah, it probably would have been better to call. But I wasn’t in the mood to crank up the dialect translator that day.

      It is funny you should mention DirecTV. My dealings with them have been excellent. The young woman who set up my account even knew what TANSTAAFL meant and had read a little Heinlein. Now that AT&T owns them I expect the rot to set in.

      • Rbastid

        Yeah, 99% of the time they are great, i was actually surprised I got such an imbecile. She kept insisting that even with the Protection plan you had to pay for remotes, to the point she said she’d send me a copy of the plan to my email. I received the copy while on the phone and told her to read the fine print where it stated “Protection plan covers all equipment, remotes and set boxes” she still wouldn’t budge.

        Hopefully they don’t outsource too much, as that was one of the things I loved about DirecTV, and it’s no slam on foreigners, but there are times when knowing the vernacular helps when someone is trying to explain their problem.

  • jakee308

    Amazon ain’t all that. Fricking Bezos has money to spend on blowing up perfectly fine million dollar capsules for testing but can’t spare the bucks to upgrade their search software when you’re looking for a product at a certain price.

    I’m referring to the fact that when you use their search they come up with thousands of hits, you then filter by price: low to high. Now you know what price you want but you can’t page to the range because Amazon makes you click on every page of hits. And because of wrong keywords they have stuff at the low end of price that isn’t remotely what you want. Yet you have to click every stupid page to get to the range you want. Doing it in reverse is no better. (and you wouldn’t believe the prices listed for some stuff amazing that they have this as an actual price a $10 item for like $100 or similar) Nope they don’t allow you to select the page range to start exploring from you have to click every page. Now for years plenty of other vendors have similar search software and they all allow you to set your filter and then they give you the option to jump to the page you want to start looking from.

    But NOT Amazon. They’re still using the same system that I know for a fact was in use 10 years, or more, ago.

    So, Amazon. you ARE as bad as Comcast. (plus they’ve raised their minimum order for free shipping from $25 to now $49. Why? To force you into paying for PRIME. At least that’s the only reason I can think of.

    • Thatch

      This is a very good point and is something I have noticed as well. If you filter from low to high then the first items you get will often be some sub-component of what you are after. To make up an example, you might be looking for a tennis racket and all of your first hits will be for strings. Then you kind of have to guess how many pages to skip ahead before you get to the actual racket.

      It is amazing how poor the search engines are on a lot of popular sites. Netflix essentially has no search engine. It is basically a screen full of pictograms. It is like they are doing an experiment with monkeys. Their site seems to be designed after a coke machine where you push the button and out pops your pop. Their search capability is so bad that there are alternative sites such as instantwatcher that do what Netflix should be doing themselves. You can sort by ratings, filter by various means etc… The only thing the alternative sties are missing is an ability to screen out movies you have already seen.

      Another neat feature would be the ability to log in more than one person so that only movies you both haven’t seen will be presented as option. This is an area where there is a LOT of room for improvement.

      • Yeah, Netflix is astoundingly bad at what I would consider basic functionality.

        Related: The Amazon Roku app is actually embarrassing. I feel bad for their application development department that this is their face.

  • Of course they can’t just give you the product at the price the scammer listed it. The whole point of those scams is to offer something outrageously cheaply. Check out “1 TB Flash Drives”, e.g., on eBay and Amazon. They’re $30-$40 when a =real= 1TB Thumb drive costs hundreds of dollars.

    I’ve had some weird interactions with Amazon Customer Service lately, myself. Particularly with regard to missed shipping dates. They’ll say “OK, we won’t charge you for that.” or “Here’s a free month of Prime.” Which, I guess I can’t complain, but I’d rather they fix the issue.

    And it probably costs more to fix the search engine than to blow up rockets. But they should do it anyway.

    • Thatch

      The price was very good. But I doubt they would have taken a loss on it though. It was within $20 or so of the best price I had seen previously. And since the scam was to offer something of much less worth in place of something of higher value the price didn’t have to be too much lower than everyone else’s since his delta was on the difference between the crap item and the real one, not on his discounted price and Amazon’s. He had it just low enough to move all of his copies fast without people thinking something had to be wrong.

      Anyway, like I say I understand that decision. I didn’t care for the process and time it took to arrive at it, or being mislead into spending more time on the chat site for the ultimate rejection. But even that would not have prompted me to write anything. It was the business with pretending my card was expired to get out of a cancellation that put it over the edge for me. It is irritating to ask to cancel something and then to essentially have the person helping you walk off after they gave you a bogus excuse for why they couldn’t do what you wanted. He could have transferred me if he couldn’t do it himself. There was no excuse for that part. Everything that comes before just “primes” you for being pissed off.

      I am fine with Bezos blowing up his toys. It is his money. He just needs to be careful he isn’t taking his eye off the ball with his core business.

      Thanks to everyone who has posted and I hope all of you had a good holiday weekend spent on something other than a customer service chat line.

      • Oh, I thought it was, like, 1/3rd less, must’ve misunderstood.

        I would rather Bezos didn’t blow up Amazon. I do most of my shopping there.

        But I suppose it’s inevitable. The one thing all the Internet nouveau riche seem to have learned is that “We’re right about everything and can do no wrong!”