One of the things the Internet has given consumers is a soapbox on which to whine and complain about being wronged by this or that company. It’s a powerful tool. This is a problem for companies, of course, as a 1% error rate (I wish my track record could be that good) can become a steady stream of complaints about its products and/or policies if nothing is done about it.
Conversely, the Internet has provided companies with tools to better serve customers, if they use them. Having Twitter accounts with an action person managing the account, making good support people available via email, and even the use of targeted advertising helps companies keep customers happy.
Sadly, few companies have caught on to the fact that the Internet is doing something that is quite ironic. It is personalizing customer relations. Over the past 100 years or so, we’ve moved from small-town business models where owners knew their customers and vice-versa to a time when large brick-n-mortar stores couldn’t care less about their customers and who hire people who will work cheap but don’t know a thing about the products being sold. They try to paint a different picture in their ads but we all shop. We know the truth. Now, as people debate whether the Internet is destroying our ability to interact directly with humans, the Internet is moving us back to a ‘small town’, knowledgable owner way of doing business. In an earlier post I mentioned one company, Goulet Pens, as an example of this.
It might surprise some who are down on Amazon as being the ‘big brother’ of the book industry, that I like them… very much. In my dealings with them, they very much live up to their email signature line of “We’re Building Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” Unlike so many online companies, they are responsive and often do things that surprise this cynical consumer.
And so it was this morning when I received an email from Amazon saying they were refunding $14.40 to my account. The email explained that when I’d purchased two Kindle covers (the ones with lights) they’d charged me $7.20 each for “import fee deposit.” I vaguely remembered these charges, both when I bought these covers and when I’d bought my Kindles. I remembered not being very happy about those charges but given that the vagaries and expense of having products shipped across the Canadian/US border, which is akin to moving from west to east in 1960s Germany, I accepted the charges as part of doing business.
The interesting thing is that this transaction took place at the beginning of February! I’d long since forgotten about it. I had to look it up to figure why they were refunding money to me. I had filed no complaint. I never asked for a refund.
But Amazon kept track of it… somehow, and they reimbursed me because, I guess, they didn’t need to use the money to buy off the Canadian government to allow my package to get to me. I really don’t know the details.
What I do know is that this stuff breeds loyalty. These sorts of actions breed consumer confidence. And this sort of consumer-centric thinking is rare in our world. Is it any wonder that Amazon leads the pack and is pulling away? Give consumers what they want, for fair prices and we’ll flock to your stores, be they online or otherwise. Treat us fairly while you’re at it and we’ll be yours for life.
Cheers — Larry