The Writer Versus Amazon Standards of Customer Service

Doug Green
Sep 2 · 6 min read

I chose to set and meet my own standards in the face of Amazon.

About 12 years ago I wrote an article for a dead tree magazine indicating the new standard of offline customer service was being set by the online community. My point at the time was consumers would become used to in the online world standards and these would translate to the off-line world.

This has become increasingly evident as Amazon has set the tone and the torrid pace for improving consumer service.

An Amazon Example

Let me give you a personal example. I purchased an iPad keyboard and cover last winter from the US store when we were down south. It arrived two weeks before we returned home to Canada, and it was only after we had returned that I discovered it was faulty.

I contacted Amazon dot COM asked how to return it and the system swung into place to deliver the returning envelopes. It was only after I had received all the barcodes and free postage, that I noticed it was all set for the USPS (which wouldn’t work in the Canadian postal system.)

In response to a followup email, Amazon confirmed that if you purchase something in the United States it had to be returned to Amazon in the United States. I could not return a product to the Canadian store that I had obtained in the United States.

I protested and pointed out that we live the cross-border lifestyle and maintained two Amazon Prime accounts. I expressed my disappointment in the original customer service person indicating there were two separate Amazon stores rather than one Amazon. (She indicated these two companies operated as two separate and distinct entities.)

I wrote I couldn’t believe that Amazon wasn’t one company, after all, they treated my credit card equally on both sides of the border.

That Amazon Experience

This must’ve been pumped up to the second level of customer support because I received an almost instantaneous return email saying, “You’re right. Sorry for the confusion — don’t return the keyboard as it’s defective — we’ll credit your account.” I tossed the $30 keyboard into the e-recycling.

A Different Company Response

This came to mind this week in dealing with another online company. In this case I had ordered a $300 piece of electronics for testing and evaluating fitness. The company seems to have a 48-hour customer support policy. Every email that I sent them took 48 hours or slightly more to reply.

We’ve gone back and forth about adding some extra chargers to the order and every response from the company takes at least two days. When the final go-ahead was given to ship, it took them two days to respond to the agreement email I sent and another six days after that to actually ship the product.

The Amazon Pace

So no matter how good the product is, the process to get the product has been unsatisfactory. It might have been fine 15 years ago but with Amazon setting a blistering, torrid pace of customer service and constant improvement taking a month to deal with and ship a product feels quite unsatisfactory and antiquated.

In My Creative Fiction World

In my fiction world, I believe in responding to every reader who writes a note. These responses are at the top of my admin block of time every day. These are mostly friendly notes and a pleasure to write/respond.

But My Non-Fiction World Experience Is Different

In my non-fiction world, readers expect me — no matter that I’m a single person — to meet their expectations about immediate service and responses.

And I understand that this is, quite frankly, the new standard we’ve all been told to meet.

For the most part, I do not think readers differentiate between single creators and the large companies that provide other services. They may say they do, but…

My Non-Fiction World Comes With Reader Questions

In my nonfiction garden writing, there’s a different problem because readers are usually asking questions. And these take time to answer and often have been answered on the website (but readers find it easier to ask rather than search the site.) For the longest time, I answered questions as fast as I could.

And then I hit *that* reader…

The Deciding Non-Fiction Reader

When I pointed out the existence of an article on the website — with a link — to one reader, she indicated she didn’t have the time and didn’t want to take the time to read it on a website. She just wanted me to give her the answer.

As you might imagine, her request to have me spend my time answering her question (that was already on the site) because she didn’t “have the time” didn’t sit too well.

And yes, it was that one rotten apple that spoiled the entire basket.

To Be Fair Though

It wasn’t only that one reader, there were an increasingly large number of folks asking rather than searching. And not only were they asking via the contact forms, they were asking on social media as well. I could have spent my entire week just answering questions.

So I Took Matters Into My Own Hands

I Killed Website Commenting

I killed commenting on the site to eliminate one stream of questions.

I Stopped Answering Questions on Facebook

Yes, indeed. I simply stopped.

I Put One Of Those Patreon-Type Links (to KoFi)

I put one of those “buy me a coffee” type of links on the bottom of every post on the gardening site. “Have a question? Buy me a coffee for an answer.” kind of link.

It cut the requests for free answers to zero when I indicated I’d answer questions on the KoFi site for those who bought me a coffee. So it did save me a ton of time for one bit of code, even if I never see a coffee. :-)

My Contact Me Page Went Nuclear

I made it clear I didn’t answer gardening questions from my contact page. Any other contact would be answered immediately but questions would be deleted. And I do this regularly as people don’t seem to believe (or don’t read) the text.

I Know, I Know, I’m Doing It All Wrong…

The experts tell me I have to have a relationship with my readers. I have to interact with my readers etc. etc. ad nauseum.

But I’m One Guy With A Word Processor

And I make my living one word, one project at a time.

But there’s a line.

And that line was crossed imho by the new expectations created by the Amazon experience.

The Impact Of My Decision To Withdraw

My ebook sales did not decrease. My sales were obviously independent of the website and social media.

Website traffic stayed roughly the same. Social media numbers continued to rise.

In short, I don’t see any economic impact from reducing reader interactions on my site or on social media.

Should Creators Be Held To The Same Standard As Amazon?

Should we as creators be held to those same standards? I suspect the answer is, from the point of view of a reader, is yes we can be and will be held to those standards.

But, But…

But the important point is a creator has to set their own standards and most importantly measure those standards against the things that matter (book sales).

My point to you is that you get to set your own standards and shouldn’t blindly swallow the current set of standards promoted by the social media world.

Test and experiment for yourselves.

Amazon sets its own standards, but as a single creator there’s no need for you to kill yourself trying to keep up.

All those social media gurus are wrong when it comes to my sales.

And you won’t know unless you test about your own.

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Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Another link to the KoFi site in case you’re interested.

Doug Green

Written by

Former nurseryman, now writer and curious about what’s over the next hill and how to get there in either my Triumph Spitfire or sailboat.

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