I like Amazon. Sure, over the years I’ve been annoyed with a few things, but I’ve ordered enough books that some disappointment is inevitable. Usually, this involves difficulties sorting out third-party sellers from Amazon itself—but my main complaint about the third-party sellers is that they’re not Amazon and might not offer the same level of service. And of course, if Amazon says that a book will likely ship in 4-6 weeks, they apparently mean that the book will ship if they ever actually find a copy of it. What ultimately won me over was the time I spoke with the most enthusiastic customer support worker ever. Usually, one experience cannot substitute for a consistent record of reliable service—but this was no ordinary experience.
I had ordered a book from Amazon. The book was just starting to get exciting when suddenly it seemed to switch scenes midsentence. Sure enough, there was page 178 on the right and 243 on the left. I was missing 64 pages. I was missing an important and exciting 64 pages. Sure, I had an extra 64 pages repeated from later in the book, but that was hardly a consolation. One signature must have inadvertently gotten swapped with another. It was a simple binding error—but I needed those 64 pages. Finals were rapidly approaching. Sure, the novel in question wasn’t remotely likely to be on my Professional Responsibility final—but I needed the book for procrastination. I get some of my sweetest procrastination done when finals are approaching. Needless to say, I was mad.
I thought about calling the publisher. The problem really was their fault. I’m sure DAW would do what they could to solve my problem—but I doubted they had a listed phone number to call for when your book has a swapped signature. I imagine the call would have gone something like this:
“Hello? You have reached DAW publishing. How may I direct your call?”
It would probably be a receptionist who was sort of surprised that her particular subdivision of Penguin was getting a phone call and somewhat annoyed that I’d interrupted her when she was browsing LOLCats.
“Um… I bought one of your books from Amazon and it’s, um, defective.”
“Yeah. It’s missing a signature. Well, not really missing, one somehow doubled and one got left out.”
I’m sure there was a technical term for the problem, but I didn’t know about it. Something like “swapped signature.” The secretary would either know exactly what the problem was and think I was an idiot for not being able to articulate it or would have no idea what I was talking about and think I was crazy.
“So, where can I direct your call?” My bet’s on she thinks I’m crazy.
“Could you just mail me pages 179 through 242?” Do you think she has a drawer full of random pages to send off to random, annoyed readers? Way to sound like an idiot, Dan.
“Where did you get this number?” She would use her patronizing I’m-talking-to-a-crazy-person voice.
“Um… the Internet.”
Calling DAW was out of the question. At least for now. I decided to call Amazon instead. They were certainly used to customer service calls. They had a reasonable return policy. I just needed to be able to convince them not to make me pay to ship the book back. The problem wasn’t really their fault—but it was more their fault than mine. Of course, my other goal was to get a new copy of the book as quickly as possible—and that would be delayed if I had to mess around with shipping labels and the like. I decided to call Amazon, thinking I’d take out my unhappiness on whomever answered the phone. It is both irrational and unkind to take your frustration out on somebody who has no relation to the problem and is probably bound by any number of company policies. But I wasn’t feeling rational or kind. Finals were approaching and I needed to procrastinate. Also, I needed to get back some of my own after my humiliating, imagined conversation with the DAW lady.
But what was Amazon’s phone number? It would have been on the shipping receipt—but the shipping receipt was either buried in a drawer or lost forever. I was already 178 pages into the book—I wasn’t planning on returning it, even if it turned out to be a singularly awful book. This left Amazon’s website. Amazon is not very good at keeping their website uncluttered and easy to navigate. It’s sort of like walking into a department store. They know you came to buy something—but they’re going to make you walk past as many other things as possible, hoping you will buy something else on impulse. I could not find a phone number, but I eventually found a box I could put information into and Amazon would call me.
At first I was annoyed. I wanted to talk to a real person immediately. Then I realized that perhaps Amazon would wait until there was actually somebody to talk to me before calling me. Perhaps I could do something else rather than spending an hour on hold. Perhaps Amazon was brilliant after all.
The phone rang a few minutes later. After navigating a brief menu tree, I got the standard message about my call being important, please hold. So Amazon had called me back to put me on hold. Great.
In fairness, I wasn’t actually on hold for more than a minute. Maybe they had waited until their hold times were short. Maybe they just had enough customer service people to deal with the demands. Either way, I was satisfied.
“Hello!” said the representative on the other side of the line. “Is this Daniel?”
“I am Lawrence!” he said confidently. “How may I be of assistance to you today?” The accent was strong, but not unintelligible. I was clearly talking to somebody in India. And he seemed excited to be talking to me.
“Well, I bought this book from Amazon, but it was defective.”
“Yes—you bought a book,” he said, “but there was a problem.”
“Yeah. There are a bunch of missing pages.”
“The book is missing pages!” He sounded shocked.
“Well, sort of. There are duplicates of some of the pages. It skips from page 178 to page 243.”
“There is a problem with the book!” he said. “But do not worry! I can help you today, Daniel.”
I realized where I had heard this confident, helpful tone of voice. I was talking to Superman. Or, if not Superman himself, I was talking to somebody who had learned English by watching superhero movies. I didn’t want him to think that somebody had just ripped out a bunch of pages and stuffed in new ones. It’s not cool to lie to Superman, even by omission. I explained I thought the book must have had a duplicated signature, which was probably just a simple printing error.
After a pause, he said, “There is a problem with the book?” Apparently I had said something he didn’t follow and he started back at the beginning.
“It is missing a bunch of pages.” This was close enough—and there was no need to unnecessarily complicate things.
“The book is missing pages!” he said, just as shocked as he had been the first time. “That is not good at all! But do not worry, today, I can help you.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said. How can you not be enthusiastic when talking to Superman? “What should I do?”
“I can help you today with this, Daniel,” he said. “I will send another book.”
“Do I need to do anything with the defective one?”
“The book is missing pages! That is not good. I can assist you today, Daniel.” Forget surprised. “Lawrence” seemed positively incredulous that the company he had worked for had sold me a book with missing pages.
“So the new one will just show up? I don’t have to do anything?”
“I will send a new book to you. You do not need to worry.”
I thanked him. I assured him that he had helped me enough for today. I did not need any more help.
A new book arrived a few days later. I still have the old one. It’s an attractive book and I can’t really bring myself to throw it away. I’ll cut holes in the extra pages if I ever need to hide anything in a hollow book. (Unfortunately, I really can’t think of anything I need to hide in a book. Books invite people to take them off the shelf and leaf through them. This is a terrible quality for a hiding place to have.)
The experience with Amazon’s customer service was easy and satisfying. But there is (or at least should not be) anything particularly outstanding about an a relatively hassle-free customer service experience. The real brilliance—even if it was accidental—was that I had spoken to somebody who talked like a superhero. That made the the entire process entertaining. This was somebody who took service seriously. I would like to see that more often. Perhaps, for variety, it could sometimes be John Wayne on the other side. Maybe Don Corleone. “You come to me with a problem, on the day of my daughter’s wedding. I cannot refuse. I will take care of this matter for you.” Whomever it is, there is something immensely satisfying about having my relatively trivial problems dealt with by a larger-than-life figure.