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Amazon and the art of service

It is said that without its superior customer service, Amazon would not be the brand it is today. Here is just one example of Amazon's attitude toward its customers.

May I begin with a message to the Federal Trade Commission, which is demanding that bloggers now reveal if they have been paid or incentivized by a company they are reviewing?

I have not been given any money by Amazon. I have not consulted for Amazon. And the only thing that Amazon has ever given me for free is free Super Saver shipping when I clicked that very button on the checkout page.


So please now let me tell you about a certain experience with the Kindle-bearing online seller.

While traveling through Europe over the last month, I decided I needed some books for my flight back to the U.S. So I ordered a couple from Amazon, the sort of tomes you can't readily get in the U.S. You know, like the seminal cultural work "Englischer Fussball" by Raphael Honigstein.

On the little Amazon form, I asked them to send the books to my friend Ed's house. Ed lives in London with his wife, Sarah, and has chickens in the back garden, two of which have recently been murdered by those SVPs of animal vileness, foxes.

While I was in Croatia, the British Royal Mail duly arrived at Ed's house with the seminal works dispatched by Amazon. Ed and Sarah were not at home, so the mailman left a note.

CC Aurelijus Valesa/Flickr

On my return to London, I experienced an uncommon desire to acquaint myself with my "Englischer Fussball."

However, Ed explained that he had been to the Post Office and they had told him they had lost the package. The Royal Mail had been on strike, you see, and one supposes that a book about English soccer written by a German was all too tempting a punching bag for an aggrieved striker.

Never having really needed to contact Amazon's customer service chappies before, I wrote an e-mail, explaining the depth of my hurt and the fact that I was shortly returning to the U.S.

Four minutes later--and this was a Sunday morning--Ed wanders up to me, clutching his phone.

"It's for you," he said. Why would anyone be calling me at Ed's house? I have my own cell phone.

"Hello, it's Doug from Amazon," said the person talking through Ed's phone. Now I can't swear his name was Doug. But I can swear to the fact that he sounded just a little hung over. Did I mention this was Sunday morning?

Still, it was like talking to someone you'd met the previous night at the local pub. I told him when I was leaving for the U.S. There was no time for Amazon to resend my order and get it to me in the U.K. So "Doug" suggested they immediately send a re-order to my U.S. address, so that the books could at least be there on my arrival.

This was all so stunningly reasonable, efficient, and customer-oriented that I couldn't believe it was happening in, well, England.

In an era in which so many companies are trying to get their customers to do all of their work, so that they can charge those customers for their own time, there was something quaintly heartening about an online seller reacting so swiftly and with such plain sense.

On this evidence (and I accept that some people may have had bad experiences with Amazon, such as those who ordered an interesting edition of "1984"), Amazon might be able to teach certain companies about treating people well.

The first "certain company" that comes to my mind is the cell phone provider who, when I canceled my contract and told them their handsets were as putrid as a raccoon's breakfast and their customer service resembled that of a Minsk hardware store circa 1973, said to me: "Oh, OK. Well, would you like to pass your phone service on to a friend?"