What Amazon and UPS Taught Me About Customer Service

on January 7, 2010 in Freelance Writing Business
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If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen an all-out rant the other evening about a complete customer service nightmare related to Amazon.com and UPS. Here's a run-down of what ultimately happened:

  1. I ordered a small chest from Amazon (directly, not a 3rd party seller).
  2. Being a somewhat large item shipping-wise, it took a while to get to me. I checked the tracking. I saw a note saying they tried to deliver it Tuesday, but they had the wrong address.
  3. I called UPS. They told me my apartment number was 3. It's not. It's 359. They cut it off. There is no apartment 3, hence why they couldn't find one. But she wouldn't update anything unless it came from Amazon directly. Then I asked why the driver didn't attempt to take it to the community office instead when they realized no apartment #3 existed. She put me on hold. She ended up disconnecting me.
  4. I called Amazon. They had the correct apartment number on my order. So somewhere between them and UPS it got screwed up. They put me on hold to call UPS. The woman with Amazon comes back and tells me that UPS wouldn't let her change it. Huh?
  5. So the Amazon rep tells me to hold again and says she'll try to change it online. She puts me on hold, and she also disconnects me! At this point I'm fuming.
  6. In her defense, she called me right back within a minute (no customer service rep has done that before during a disconnect with me). She says it'll take a while and asks if she can call me back in 10 minutes with an update.
  7. About 40-50 minutes go by and no call. So I call UPS again (and by now we're nearing midnight).
  8. I tell the UPS rep what Amazon said. They claimed Amazon never called them. Then they tell me there's an updated address after all. They updated it to apartment #3! Hair was on the verge of being ripped out at this point. I corrected them again and told them no, it's 359. Well, we can't do anything.
  9. I call Amazon again. I get a different rep this time. Like the woman earlier, this guy is very nice and actually trying to help. He also calls UPS for me. This time it's done on a conference call so I know very well Amazon actually did reach UPS. It briefly looks like UPS is going to take care of the change. The UPS rep puts us both on hold. Then they disconnect us. Again.
  10. The Amazon guy tells me they'll have to try again in the morning.
  11. Morning comes, and I'm not waiting around for Amazon (who didn't actually get back to me in the morning, but rather mid-afternoon). I called UPS directly. I got a different woman. I make it very clear that I'm extremely pissed off (but that I'm not blaming her personally), that this package already took a while to get here, that I have my ID and a copy of the order showing I placed the order with the correct address, and that it would be completely unacceptable for the package to be sent back to Amazon. I wanted it fixed. I told her how I wanted it fixed. And I told her that I wanted it fixed right now. Do you know what she did? She fixed it. She updated it, sent a message to their local customer service center, and had them call me later in the morning to verify so they could call the delivery person and make sure it got to me.

It's funny, right? Hours on the phone with two companies passing the blame (each repeatedly claimed the mess-up was with the other), with people telling me nothing could be done. Get a bit more assertive, and like magic all the barriers go away and there's a solution after all.

The situation had me pissed off beyond all imagination, but in the end it was the same approach I usually used that got the job done -- make it clear you're upset with the company and not the individual you're speaking to (it's probably really not their fault, and you'd hate to be in their shoes anyway), tell them exactly what's wrong, tell them exactly what you want them to do to fix the problem, and tell them when you expect the problem to be fixed. In this case that was easy -- deliver my package, and do it today (since it was already out with the wrong address again).

Overall, I think this offers a few customer service lessons worth keeping in mind:

  1. Don't try to blame someone else. Yes, Amazon had the correct address from me. But perhaps they entered it incorrectly (one line instead of two) so it didn't fit in the UPS form. I don't know. But when it's something you can potentially fix, just say "I'm sorry, let me help you with this." That single sentence goes a long way towards lessening a customer's rage directed at your company. The same goes for UPS. They fixed it, so obviously they could have earlier. They chose not to. Not acceptable.
  2. Don't hang up on your customers. I was hung up on three times that evening, twice by UPS and once by Amazon. If there's a chance of being disconnected, give the customer a direct callback number to that specific rep first just in case -- then they don't have to repeat the whole ordeal every time they have to call back. And if you do get disconnected, call your customer back instead of making them hunt you down again. Amazon got that right, and it was the most pleasant surprise of the evening.
  3. If you say you'll call a customer back, do it. It was very late in the evening, and the Amazon rep asked whether or not she could call me back. If a customer gives you specific permission to call them back at a certain time, rest assured they're probably waiting for you. I didn't appreciate being kept up late for no reason when I was up late for the sold purpose of working with them on this issue. Call your customers or clients back.
  4. Be patient and pleasant with a pissed off customer. There's never an occasion to be flat-out rude to a customer, but the angrier they are, the nicer you need to be. I will say the reps I dealt with were all very pleasant, and I could have gone from seriously pissed to verging on homicidal if I had to deal with snotty customer service reps on top of it. Understand that a client isn't always mad at you personally, but rather upset with a situation.
  5. If you can fix something for a customer, just fix it. Don't drag them along. Don't make excuses. Don't pass blame. Just fix the f*ing problem. It might seem like common sense, but people don't always do it. Wipe "I can't" out of your vocabulary, and replace it with "let me see what I can do."

Just for the record, I did finally get my chest delivered. I probably won't order larger items from Amazon again any time soon after this ordeal (I've never had an issue getting smaller packages from them delivered), and I'll probably cringe every time I see a UPS truck for a little while. But I'll get over it. If you don't take care of your clients though, you might not be so lucky.

Thanks for sharing!
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12 Comments

  1. Stace Johnson January 7, 2010 Reply

    I had a similar situation with Green Dot debit cards recently, but it involved their relatively new online bill pay system. It took me over a month to get an unauthorized $100 charge reversed, and then they reversed the wrong charge.

    It wasn’t until I posted something on Green Dot’s Facebook fan page that something actually happened, and even then, they did the wrong thing.

    Pay-as-you-go debit cards have their valid uses (like avoiding your credit card company raising your rates if they don’t like your purchasing patterns), but I don’t recommend Green Dot’s online bill pay service. Just say no!

  2. Jennifer Mattern January 7, 2010 Reply

    It’s ridiculous how long it can take to have people fix what should be a simple error, isn’t it? And it always seems to be the hardest when it comes to refunding money, right? :)

  3. Graham Storrs January 7, 2010 Reply

    Here’s another tip these companies should learn: If you screw up it will be blogged and twittered about the next day. Thousands of people might hear about it, not just the poor guy you’re jerking around.

    Personally, I make a point of letting everybody know when this kind of thing happens to me.

    The moral for Amazon should be to reengineer their interface to UPS. This has given you a reason not to buy a certain class of goods from them. They really don’t want to do that for their customers.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 7, 2010 Reply

      Good point Graham. I do have to say I was surprised that Amazon specifically didn’t respond to the Twitter rant. They seem like they should be pretty in-tune with the online world given the nature of their business, and I’ve had bigger companies respond (and many smaller) who not only responded but apologized when they find this kind of feedback. More importantly, I’ve seen several companies take that single-user feedback and actually make changes or improvements in their businesses. What’s frustrating to me is that I’ve never had an issue with them and their shipping in the past, and I order fairly frequently (other UPS packages from Amazon have always gotten to me hassle-free). But it only takes one screw-up to change how a customer sees you. I won’t stop using them completely over it, but if there were another problem in the future, you’d better believe this one’s going to come to mind too and help influence buying decisions.

  4. Stace Johnson January 7, 2010 Reply

    I had a nasty problem with an eBay purchase once. I bought a CD-ROM drive for a laptop I was building, and found out that there was a CD in it the hard way. When I booted the machine, it booted from the CD and installed a blank Windows 98 installation while my back was turned, completely wiping out the existing operating system. I contacted the seller and told them I was blogging the issue, and they responded very positively in the long run. Here’s a link, if anyone is interested in reading the blog entry.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 7, 2010 Reply

      Thanks for sharing the link Stace. I’m glad to hear your customer service nightmare was worked out. :)

  5. Allena January 7, 2010 Reply

    I don’t want to hijack your post, Jenn, but this reminded me of my recent debacle with Menards, and why I will never step foot in a Menards again. I had a set budget in my bank acct for remodeling my office. I bought something for $70 from Menards, then found it for $10 somewhere else. I returned the item to Menards 5 hours after I bought it. I waited 3 days and then assumed (oops) that my $70 was back in my account and I could spend it. Nope. Menards took SEVEN DAYS to refund money for something that I took back 5 hours after I bought it. In addition I got the whole “it’s your bank” “I can’t help you” “oops I accidentally dropped your call” bull too. Never again. Not.One.Penny.

  6. Jennifer Mattern January 7, 2010 Reply

    Allena – In this day and age it’s truly baffling that companies pretend they can’t move faster. Did it take them 7 days to take your money? I think not. And it’s amazing how some businesses play the “it’s your bank” game, but others can magically refund your money as soon as they process it. Hmmmm.

  7. Robert Witham January 8, 2010 Reply

    I just went through a similar experience with the Post Office around Christmas. I will spare everyone the details, but we had they failed to deliver a package or to leave a notice at our house. When we were finally able to get the missing package tracked (one week after it was supposed to be delivered because their tracking system is hopelessly outdated) we learned that the package was being held at the post office for us to pick up. The postal service could not tell us WHICH post office the package was at though – and there are seven zip codes in our city. We had to go through and call each post office looking for our package. When we finally located the correct post office we had to spend an hour driving and standing in line to pick up a package that was supposed to be delivered to the house.

    Similar to your situation, the thing that made me angry enough to put it on Facebook and Twitter was that instead of apologizing for their mistake (actually it was their series of mistakes) they blamed the customers! I would have been okay with the mistake given the holiday shipping traffic – if they would have simply apologized for messing it up and wasting my time. The run around and blame shifting had me screaming on social media sites.

  8. Jennifer Mattern January 8, 2010 Reply

    It’s ridiculous that you didn’t get some kind of notice that you were supposed to pick the package up. How the hell are you supposed to know that if no one tells you? And short of the customer giving them the wrong address, I’m not sure how they can justify blaming the customer for shipping issues. If they’d pulled that crap in my case with Amazon and UPS, all hell would have broken loose. I was the only one who hadn’t screwed up the shipping. Sorry to hear about your lousy customer service issue, but I’m glad you were able to get your package, even if it took longer than expected (and came with more hassles).

  9. Rebecca January 8, 2010 Reply

    Funny thing – I read this early today and thought, “Poor, Jenn – that sucks!”

    And then not an hour later I get a message from Amazon that a book I ordered couldn’t be delivered to my house thanks to some (never mentioned) post office policy. I would have to pick it up at the post office – this is a single book, mind you, not a big package.

    So at 5PM on the coldest day Houston has seen in 40 years or whatever, two tired boys under the age of five and Mom wait in the line at the post office only to be told that there is no package waiting for me and this has happened to a few other people today. We get home and the book is in the mailbox. WTH? At least I got my book, but I could have done without the hassle in the 26 degree weather.

    I also don’t do business with Bank of America if I can help it. It’s a long story, but I was once “handled” on the phone and I disagree strongly with how they handle certain of their business practices.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 9, 2010 Reply

      So pathetic. How can a company selling as many physical goods as Amazon not be able to get shipping right? Sorry to hear you got hit with this garbage too. Sounds like it was a major hassle! And since you mention the post office I’m assuming that it wasn’t sent via UPS. In that case, it seems the problem in my case was more likely Amazon’s and not UPS themselves.

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