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Amazon.com: The Death of Customer Service

 


By Antoine du Rocher

SAN FRANCISCO, 28 December 2003—Customer service, small surprise, has been one of the casualties of America’s drive towards cost-cutting in the age of e-business. The movement of customer service call centers off-shore is one-upped by companies like Amazon.com, which increasingly are hiding their customer service telephone numbers and other contact information, in order to prevent dissatisfied customers from calling in for service at all.

The specific question of Amazon.com hiding their customer service number is receiving increasing attention as the post-holiday-season hangover sets in, and people want to return gifts, correct shipping problems, or track down shipments that never arrived. (In all fairness, they do provide the number in one place on their Web site—on the page displayed after you complete a purchase. Some, out of desparation, have considered buying a new item just to get the phone number to call about a problem with an earlier purchase—one hopes that this does not account for Amazon's continuing sales growth.)

Indeed, a sort of guerilla movement has developed in the last few years, of people posting the customer service contact information for Amazon to their own web sites. One enterprising soul is collecting horror stories and other responses from grateful visitors to her web site, where she has posted the collected contact information for Amazon.com in several countries.

Some have also noted eBay using similar tactics—even identity theft victims are sometimes at a loss for assistance in resolving eBay-related crimes, because the company does their best to keep customers off the phone.

Of course, businesses around the world ultimately care about their customers because, in a phrase attributed to notorious bank robber Willie Sutton, "That’s where the money is." But one can only hope that European companies with a tradition of customer service and pride in their work will continue to eschew the profit-at-any-cost attitude of their American cousins. Even if the economics dictate otherwise, there’s something unseemly about hiding from one’s customers in the name of making a few extra dollars.

It is telling that the two great "success" stories of the e-commerce era, Amazon and eBay, discourage their customers from contacting them, or from figuring in their operations as anything other than "revenue streams" (a favorite dot-com buzzword, and the one which most bubble companies foundered upon). For merchants who moved from brick-and-mortar into online retail, telephone customer service, while a cost center, was nonetheless an accepted cost of doing business, to which they were already accustomed. Perhaps the enfants terribles of e-commerce will someday mature and accept that customer service is more than just a buzzword.

Meanwhile, here are a few useful contact numbers for Amazon and eBay:

Amazon US Customer Service
1.800.201.7575 (Toll free, US and Canada)
1.206.346.2992 or 1.206.266.2992 (Outside US and Canada)
1.877.586.3230 (Canada only)

Amazon UK Customer Service
Phone: +44.208.636.9200

EBay: 408-376-7400
Toll Free: 800-322-9266  888-749-3229
Investor Relations 1.866.696.3229

When all else fails: 1.800.555.1212 (General toll-free information for the US)

Other press accounts:
Slate's Chatterbox
US News and World Report
PC World, who first reported on this in 2001.


Antoine du Rocher is a French cultural journalist and writer based in New York. He is also a member of the editorial board of Culturekiosque.com.
 

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