Amazon’s Children Are Not All Created Equal

I recently had the opportunity to visit Zappos.com headquarters, outside Las Vegas, NV.  They offer a tour/program called Zappos Insights which is meant to show outsiders what the corporate culture at Zappos is all about, and why it is directly impacting their amazing success.

It was an amazing experience, walking through an energized, creative, fun place to work.  Just bring there made me want to fill out an application.  I walked away with a couple nuggets of wisdom, and I thought I would share them here.

1)  Like any business, they have sales targets, forecasts, etc.  Where they differ is how they approach these numbers.  While those numbers are a goal, compromising their Core Values is unacceptable.  In some cases, even a fire-able offense.  Ignoring customer service to hit a goal is unheard of.

2)  Customer service is the name of their game.  Above all, they are a service company.  They just happen to sell shoes, clothing, etc.  I once heard Progressive Insurance say something similar about themselves:  they are a technology company that happens to sell insurance.  “Whatever it takes” is how Zappos views customer service.  Free shipping both directions, and accomodations for practically any need you could have.  They mentioned that someone once asked them for a specific pair of shoes, and they insisted that they receive shoes that had never been tried on before.  Zappos made that happen.

In short, I was incredibly impressed with Zappos approach to business, their corporate culture, and the incredible success they’ve had in such a short period of time.  They were purchased by Amazon.com in July 2009, and seem to have kept their own unique identity.  I can only hope that other companies will have an opportunity to learn from their lessons.


About a year after Amazon.com bought Zappos, they made another acquisition: Woot.com.  Woot has been one of my favorite websites for years now, and I’ve probably bought a dozen of their “daily deal” offers in that time.  It’s one of the few websites I visit every morning.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to realize that their philosophy on customer service is absolutely nothing like Zappos.  (In fact, because of their “sister” relationship, I was tempted to call Zappos to see if they might be able to help me with my situation.) 

My most recent purchase was on January 22, 2011.  They were selling TWO 25’ HDMI cables.  For those of you that have been reading my recent posts, you know that I’ve recently dropped my cable subscription in favor of online streaming, and these cables were directly a part of my overall plan.

The order process, as usual, was seamless and easy.  I received my tracking number 5 days after my order was placed (which is actually pretty common for them.  No complaints there, because it’s something I have come to expect.)

I use an awesome service to track my packages using Twitter, called TrackThis.  It sends me a direct message (DM) each time that my package’s status changes.  With this specific Woot! purchase, I noticed that it wasn’t heading for me, instead, it made it’s way to Maryland.  (As it turns out, there is a street address exactly like mine in Gaithersburg, MD.)

In any case, I used their email support 6 times over the next 4 months to try to recover my HDMI cables unsuccessfully. 

On my fourth try, Woot actually responded, and asked me if I’d like them to refund my money, or send me replacement cables.  I was ecstatic.  I responded immediately, asking for them to send me new cables.  And then silence again.

I even called the post office and FedEx to try and track this package down.  When I called FedEx, I asked them if they had a phone number that I could call Woot with (since they don’t list a phone number on their site.)  They did, and they gave it to me, surprisingly.  I called it, and it was a direct line to someone’s desk at Woot.

I apologized profusely for bothering this guy (I would have been super annoyed if this had happened to me), but asked him kindly if he could have someone call me about these cables.  With an audible grumble, he collected my information, and we ended the call.

Several days later, I received an email from Woot telling me that a new shipment of cables had been sent to my address.  And they actually arrived.

I’m not sure that the hours of frustration and anger were really worth the $12 I spent on the cables.

Can I Get Your Email?

A few years ago (Dec 2008), I posted an article about “5 Steps To Living A Spam-Free Life.”  I was tempted to republish it in its entirety, but I’ll trust that you’re going to read it.  Right now.

Fast-forward to yesterday.  I got home from a week’s vacation with some friends, only to discover that ants had decided to take up residence in my home while we were away.  I’d already sprayed some of that “home barrier” stuff both inside and outside my house, but they’d still found a way in.  There were thousands of dead ants on my front step.

Time to call the Orkin Man.  I’ll save my displeasure for how Orkin does business for another post, but I’ve noticed a trend lately in customer service, and that’s the focus of this article.  Suffice it to say that we’re ant free after their visit.

Do you have an email address we can use?

This is becoming a more common question when working with businesses over the phone, and it makes complete sense to me.  That way, in future communication, they can just send me an email notification instead of calling and interrupting me.  If you read the article I listed above, I have absolutely no fear giving out my email address to businesses, shady or otherwise.  In the case of Orkin, I gave the address orkin@jeffblankenburg.com.  Later in the call, after I had completed my order, the customer service representative asked me if I had pen and paper handy, so that I could write down my appointment time, confirmation number, and Orkin Man’s name.  I told him that I was driving, and that if he could email me at the email address I provided, it would be greatly appreciated.

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t have the ability to email.”

Are you kidding me?

Yep.  He didn’t have a way to email the information.  But I don’t blame Orkin.  This seems to be common practice in customer service.  I’ve had the same experience with Zappos.com, eBags.com, and many other retailers.  With every call comes some important information that I will need in the future, and they don’t have a way to send it to me electronically.  (In fact, sometimes I’m not even driving, I’m just too lazy to find the stuff and write it down.)

This suggests a couple of things to me:

  • They know that confirmation numbers are as worthless as I suspected.
  • They are concerned that a customer service rep will put something in writing that isn’t true, but that they will now have to uphold.
  • Their development staff hasn’t figured out how to create a button that will email a confirmation number to an email address.

What do you think?

I often go on rants like this, but I’ve only got my perspective to fall back on.  Since this seems to be such a common practice in customer service, why do you think that is?  Why can’t the person I speak to on the phone send me an email with the information we discussed?