Monday, August 14, 2017

Amazon & Teddy Roosevelt

Many of us (including myself) have had a wonderful time for the past several years bashing those huge, soulless corporations. And for good reason, too. Many of them really do seem to lack souls; they care only about the bottom line and apparently not much about either their customers or their employees. They have managed to acquire many of the perks and trappings of person-hood, with very few of the responsibilities. (We all recall the 2010 Court decision that gave them many of the same rights as people, but it really goes all the way back to an 1886 decision determining that corporate money was protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.)

All of this is nothing new, of course. Bashing corporations and finding ways to keep them in check goes way back. My favorite corporation-basher is probably Teddy Roosevelt. In 1901, TR said, "To permit every lawless capitalist, every law-defying corporation, to take any action, no matter how iniquitous, in the effort to secure an improper profit and to build up privilege, would be ruinous to the Republic and would mark the abandonment of the effort to secure in the industrial world the spirit of democratic fair dealing."

TR was one tough dude. Read Mornings on
Horseback
 to find out just how badass he
really was.
TR was a bit of a hard-ass. Seriously. This is a guy who, in 1912, got shot just before he was due to give a speech, continued on to the venue, gave the speech, and only then went to the hospital.

One of our favorite corporate targets of late has been Amazon. The company burst upon the scene in 1994 as an online bookseller, but quickly began selling . . . well, just about everything. Today there is almost nothing you cannot buy on Amazon.com, from widgets to watches, from glasses to guitars, and from fishing tackle to fishing boats. But they occasionally engender some bad press by being a bit too heavy-handed, and there are some ugly stories about their hiring and personnel practices. (I've known some Amazon employees, and many have said that it's a meat-grinder, very competitive, and that the best person doesn't always get that promotion. Admittedly, most of the employees to whom I've spoken have been somewhat disgruntled. I haven't found any gruntled employees who are willing to talk.)

Still, I buy lots of stuff on Amazon. They have excellent prices and speedy (usually free) delivery. But most of all, they have wonderful customer service.

Some time back, I bought a generator on Amazon. This is a small, portable machine meant to be carried along in our truck when we take our trailer out "boondocking." For the uninitiated, "boondocking" is camping in unimproved areas that lack water, power, and sewer services. Basically, you're (usually) out in the middle of nowhere, often not even in any sort of actual campsite or campground. We have solar panels and batteries, and we carry our own water and sewer tanks; if the batteries ever ran down and we really needed power, we could use our generator to top off our batteries or power any 120V items that were absolutely necessary. You know, like a hair dryer. Or a microwave. Or, during baseball season, a television.

The generator in question. Image courtesy of Champion
Power Equipment.
The generator arrived in a timely fashion, left on our front porch by our friendly UPS driver, whom we never see but who must exist, because we keep finding things on our porch. After a week or so, I finally got around to taking the generator out of the box, only to find that one of the internal pieces (a combination rectifier/heat sink/circuit board, if you're curious about that sort of thing) had somehow been dislodged, either during manufacturing or shipping. My guess was that somewhere along the line, the thing had been dropped. I called the manufacturer's tech support number and got in touch with a young man named Brian, who was happy to either approve warranty repairs or send me instructions on how to repair it myself. I opted for the latter, because the nearest qualified repair facility was a good 40 minutes away and, more importantly, would not be able to get to my little generator for at least 3-4 weeks. Since I intended to leave on a trip in about 2 weeks, I opted to give it a shot, so Brian sent over instructions.

The instructions were pretty straightforward, and I managed to get the rectifier back in its slot, suffering only minor injuries in the process. But when I filled it with oil, the oil immediately began leaking from the bottom of the generator. I suspected that, when the generator was dropped (or run over by a bus, or possibly thrown through a 10th-story window), something important had cracked and now it would no longer hold oil.

So, I went camping without my generator. That's how brave I am. I was prepared to be out in the wilderness, surrounded by bears and wolves and aardvarks and such, and me without a hair dryer!
We have some portable solar panels much like the ones pictured here.
Alas, they will not power a hair dryer. Image courtesy of Renogy.
When we came home, I went to that portion of Amazon's website dedicated to returns and was informed that, since more than 30 days had passed, the item could no longer be returned. I sighed. I wrung my hands. I fixed my monitor with the steely gaze I had perfected as an English teacher, but none of this did any good. (Come to think of it, it hadn't done much good when I was a teacher, either.) Anyway, I wrote a note in the provided Comments box, explaining my plight, and resorting to that most heartrending entreaty of young children everywhere: "But . . . but, it wasn't my fault!" I sent it off and pretty much forgot about it, assuming that I would have to find a way to box up and lug the generator 45 miles to the repair facility, and figuring that I would not see it again for months. Or ever.

But then I got an email from a very nice young lady who works for Amazon's customer service department.

Let's digress for just a moment . . .  Have you noticed that "customer service" has become a bit of a misnomer? When is the last time you dealt with such a department and came away feeling like you actually were a valued customer and had been offered actual service? Yeah, that's what I thought. With a few exceptions (Apple comes to mind), we all dread making calls to tech support or customer service lines. It's rarely productive and never pretty.

But that's not the case with Amazon. The email from Lagna (which, quite appropriately, turns out to be a Hindu name meaning "auspicious") said that Amazon wished to “obviate” my inconvenience, followed by—and I’m paraphrasing here:

"Oh, sorry. That was unfortunate. We don't like it when that stuff happens. We're going to give you your money back. Please order a new generator, and go ahead and keep the old one; maybe you can get it fixed, use it for spares, etc. Oh, and we'll expedite the shipping on the replacement and also refund those shipping charges."

And sure enough, I ordered a new generator, which appeared on my doorstep a few days later, and my account was credited the original purchase price, plus shipping. I decided that my inconvenience had indeed been "obviated." If you’re following along here, I ended up with two generators, only one of which I paid for. The other one is broken, of course, but I’d imagine that I could get it repaired, now that time is not an issue. Or I could use it for parts or donate it to Habitat for Humanity.

Amazon has become a powerhouse, of course, largely due to its pricing, inventory, and reasonable shipping policies. But the real reason so many of us go back to Amazon is the customer service. Even before The Generator Incident, I've leaned toward Amazon because if the item arrived broken, the company took it back, no questions asked. Wrong size? No worries. Not up to your expectations? Not a big deal. Send it back. You didn't mean to order that one? Not a problem; send it back. One of their third-party vendors screwed up? Not an issue; send it back and we'll deal with the vendor.

Of course, the thing is that Amazon makes a ton of money; the company can afford to offer good customer service. Amazon knows that what it loses in sales or margin, it can make up in repeat sales to satisfied customers. And so they try very, very hard to create satisfied customers.


So, good for them, right?! But that begs a very real question: How come Amazon can afford to offer truly good customer service, but other companies, companies that also make a great deal of money selling products or services to us, seemingly cannot? What's up with Verizon and Sprint? And what about Comcast and Time-Warner and the other cable companies? How about Best Buy? Your bank?

And don't even get me started on the airlines.

8 comments:

  1. "River of Doubt" is a book that you MUST read about TR!
    We have a local man on radio and TV who is a consumer advocate and he calls customer service, customer "NON SERVICE".
    I am with you on the airlines, I can only shake my head at the rudeness these days.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation - I'll definitely have to check out River of Doubt!

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    2. Ah, and those banks. A differnt experience. When a rent payment bounced and I went to the bank to get an explanation, after being passed from teller to assistant manager to deputy manager to manager, profound appologies for their mistake, all future bank charges waived for the life of my account, unlimited free cheques, a letter of apology from the manager to my landlord (hand written, of course), and I suspect that if the branch was in Japan he would have committed heri-keri on the spot! Of course this was in 1956 with the Bank of Nova Scotia!

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    3. Well, yeah.... Canada! :)

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  2. Oh, so right you are. I love Amazon and for all the reasons you list. And I don't have to drive anywhere to buy or restock. Need a new anything? Go to Amazon and in less than 48 hours, its sitting on the porch. Suddenly realize you're out of Kleenex, hair spray, detergent? No problem. Open iPad, pull up Amazon scroll to past orders, click on buy it again, and Amazon does the rest.

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    1. It does make things pretty painless,doesn't it?!

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  3. What the bean counters do at Amazon is their business. What is mine is, like you, how I am treated as a customer. Amazon is A+ with me. I buy through them, download books to my Kindle, including Leveling the Playing Field. What was new to me was the video which I was able to play and listen to. Interesting. Stay well.

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    1. Hey, Andy!! Yeah, Amazon does a pretty solid job of delivering product and treating customers well. And they do sell my book, after all. :)

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