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Let’s Talk About Customer Service, and Amazon’s Policies

Every business lays claim to offering superb customer service. Small office supply businesses that have survived the Costco wave, the Office Depot/Staples wave and now the Amazon wave can probably lay claim to actually providing a high level of service – but the words themselves are empty now, so let’s talk about what it really means to the customer to do business with a truly “customer-centric” provider.

Several years ago, Amazon.com started coming up at the top of the list on surveys regarding customer service. This shocked us because there is no human touch with Amazon, and we are all about providing a level of care and understanding that can only come from human contact and conversation. But Amazon was so consistent in its delivery schedule, so advanced in its webstore, and so brilliant at getting favorable press – they actually redefined the customer’s definition of “customer service.” This rocked our world. We made sure our web store was great, we made sure our customers could track their deliveries, and we kept our level of service through personal contact as high as we could.

Today, several major news outlets broke a story that Amazon has an unstated policy that a customer who returns too high a percentage of their purchases (anecdotally, it seems to be around 10%) – or returns purchases for atypical reasons – can get banned from Amazon, even if they own outstanding credits, gift cards, etc.

We take customer returns seriously, too – and a 10% credit rate is high. But our interpretation of what a high return rate means is very different, and the difference is key to understanding what real customer service can mean to a consumer. Amazon sees a high rate of returns, and they think “abuse and fraud,” so they ban the customer. We see a high rate of return (honestly, not very often – but it happens) and we think “we could do better for this customer.” We meet with them, we understand why the items were returned, and we figure out how to help that customer buy the right item the first time. Returns are expensive for us but they are also expensive for the customer – we’d rather solve the problem with the customer than solve the problem by rejecting the customer.

So when we talk about extraordinary customer service, it comes from a deep place of commitment. We walk that talk. Demand that your supplier is focused on your bottom line, not just their own.