Why do we put up with it? Bad Amazon customer service and beyond

Breakups are often messy but what happens when it’s with Amazon, the big online retailer. Here I detail how Amazon customer service is not all it's cracked up to be and how especially in the UK we put up with poor customer service. Blow by blow I go into all the details of where Amazon let me down and how they lost me as a customer.

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What happens when Amazon customer service is so bad, the trust is gone, the bubble is burst, and you simply want to walk away. A relationship spanning twenty years, my first order being in 1998, I was very pleased with Amazon over the years. I would even spend a bit extra if I had a choice of retailers, just to have the assurances that if I ever had a problem, I knew Amazon would resolve it without question.

Amazon screw up

Fast forward to January 2018, it all started simply enough, I ordered a £150 Roberts radio from Amazon, not for myself, though that would have made things so much simpler if that was the case. In fact, it was for a family member as a birthday gift, several of us pooling together and contributing as the pièce de résistance to really celebrate a lovely birthday.

The family member was thrilled, it was a great looking bit of kit, integrated Bluetooth, Spotify support, internet radio etc. We spent the evening at Tate Modern, nipping into the members bar and then of to Carluccio's which worked great, which was were the gifts were presented.

Anyway, you get where I am going with this, after the celebrations had finished and we’d gone our separate ways, I later got a message saying the radio had come with a 2-pin plug and was unusable. In the UK, electrical items must come with a 3-pin plug or suitable adapter. It in fact it’s illegal for UK retailers to sell these items with a 2-pin plug. There are a very few exceptions, mostly electrical shavers and toothbrushes, which is not relevant in this case.

My initial reaction was one of embarrassment and that Amazon had really let me down, this was for a special occasion and Amazon had screwed up. Let’s make it clear, this wasn’t an Amazon marketplace purchase, this was directly from Amazon. Still being pragmatic at this point, rather than catching up with Match of the Day, this being now late Saturday night, I contact Amazon customer services.

Amazon customer service - Where did it go wrong?

So, this is where it begins, I used Amazon’s chat customer services option. I explained the situation, the nuisance that the radio was a gift and was no longer in my possession. What I just wanted was a replacement plug, dead simple and very quick to resolve, as it wouldn’t require sending the radio back.

With no choice given, a replacement radio was ordered instead. I gave the address of the family member for the replacement as well as their contact details, I emphasised this time with the right plug was to be sent to their address. After about an hour of going back and forth, we were kind of getting things sorted.

I had even managed to get a courier collection for the original radio to be collected. Amazon expected the family member to print out a label (they don’t have a printer!), boxing up the radio (they didn’t have the amazon packaging, I did) and take it to the post office. Amazon were insistent about this until I explained this was an Amazon fault and then finally I got them to acknowledge a collection was in order.

The replacement was going to be delivered the next day, Sunday, wow I thought how good is that! That’s when my account got suspended, locking me out and the replacement cancelled. I have no idea why that happened, nor did the Amazon customer service agent I was chatting with. So well past midnight, I was told a specialist would be in touch within the next twenty-four hours. Already, I told Amazon this was the worst experience I had with them ever, however little did I know it was about to get a lot worse.

Not again

So, to be fair, I did get some emails Sunday morning, like 7am, saying a replacement had been arranged and access to my account was restored. Now though the delivery had slipped to Wednesday, so goodbye next day replacement as I had been promised. I did get confirmation a courier would be in touch to arrange pick up of the original radio.

All while this is happening, I am keeping the family member updated, who understandable just wanted to go out and get an adapter so they could start using their radio. I had to explain that was not the way forward, all the while they had a paperweight of a gift.

Fast forward to the replacement being delivered, for the first time I get confirmation that rather than delivering the radio to the family member, it was incorrectly sent to the address where I happened to have it delivered originally, an Amazon locker. I didn’t get a chance to pick up the replacement until Friday and wouldn’t you know it, once I unboxed the radio it also had a 2-pin plug!

The last straw

Now to be honest at this point, I am far from pleased. I got Amazon customer services to do a call back, to hopefully to get this resolved once and for all. What turned out to be nearly a 40-minute phone call, it was back to square one all over again. I started the conversation saying I wanted to make a complaint.

Explaining the gift thing, wrong plugs including replacement, I learned Amazon had withdrawn the radio from sale (now back on sale), though they still sold it in a different colour. I said I was unhappy with their service, hence the complaint though I was very careful not to take it out on the customer services agent. What it boiled down to though was I was expected to pick up the radio from the family member, at my own cost, box both radios, label them and take them to the post office to return them to Amazon. Until this happened I wouldn’t be getting a refund and more to the point the family member was deprived of their gift and I was left feeling rather cheated.

Any option for a collection was not happening, I explained how ridiculous this was, as I was effectively being punished for an Amazon mistake. I did get a call back when I insisted I wanted some proof a compliant had been lodged, as all they could tell me was one had been submitted. I was sceptical, and I originally asked if there was a form or something I could submit but made no headway.

Fallout

I’d already cancelled my Amazon Prime renewal, as a small protest, I also tweeted Amazon Help and they stopped talking to me. This was when I explained how the family member couldn’t return the original radio easily, I would have to pick it up from them, as I had the Amazon box to send it back in. Amazon Help never answered back when I pointed this out, nor did they respond when I asked for an address to send in a complaint.

None of this was about me being a difficult customer or any sense of entitlement, I just wanted Amazon to acknowledge the mistakes that they had made and find a suitable resolution. At no point through the process did I feel Amazon customer services understood why I was so upset with them and felt so let down. Was that an unrealistic expectation in the first place? I don’t know but the whole episode, as small as it might have been, was enough for me to feel taken advantage of and I wasn’t having it, not this time.  

So, Amazon will no longer be my go to retailer, whether I go as far as closing my account, probably not but certainly I will avoid them as much as possible. I find Argos are often better, price wise anyway and for bigger purchases, I may go with John Lewis for example

What does good customer services look like?

If you are looking for a good example of customer services, I’d highlight Monzo a new bank in the UK. They also use a chat-based support, that’s done directly in the mobile app. For starters, you know who you are chatting with, along with their first name you get a small photo of them, that more personalizes the experience. Their support is the epitome of good customer services, the two or three times I have had to contact them, they have been great and feel like they are genuine and will resolve the matter at hand.

Wrapping up

So frankly I don’t think we should put up with poor customer services anymore. Let’s hold these companies to account and not let them short change us.

Here are just a few tips I have on how retailers and other organisations could improve things:

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    Don’t stop talking to the customer, I'm talking about you @AmazonHelp!
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    Have a defined complaints procedure that is accessible and easy to find or reference
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    When something unexpected happens give the customer options
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    Check that the customer is happy with the course of action
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    Acknowledge when mistakes have been made, rather than gloss over them, an explanation doesn't hurt either!

In the meantime, I have two radios to return, a trip to the post office to look forward to and trying to source a new radio, all while waiting for a refund to be issued. Thanks a bunch Amazon!