Amazon Giveth, and Taketh Away

Last month, in my love letter to Amazon, I mentioned that they had given me $1 back on a movie pre-order. They loved me up again a week later by giving me $2 back for a Wall-E pre-order.

And then, last week, they snatched one of those dollars right back.

That’s right. I accidentally ordered the I Can Has Cheezburger book (thinking it was a page-a-day calendar and would make a good stocking stuffer for a certain someone I know) and when I shipped it back, Amazon deducted the .99 shipping fee from my refund. Sure, it’s fair and all, but it got me thinking about how companies like Zappos have figured out that if they allow two-way free shipping (and actually let you talk to a person when you want to) they can inspire customer love and devotion. I’ve experienced the Zappos love myself; when I ordered a couple of pairs of shoes last May, they sent me an email to tell me that they upgraded my shipping. Just because.

Don’t worry, Amazon. I still love you. But, Zappos does have an incredible service model. They’ve managed to tap into the power of technology (Order shoes online, anytime. Read customer reviews and ratings. Follow their CEO on Twitter. Heck, follow any of their employees on Twitter.) AND the power of great customer service. Most web-based businesses have viewed the web as a way to do business without having to deal with actual people. My personal favorite: when a web site makes it damn near impossible to find a phone number, then when you call the number an automated voice condescendingly reminds you that you could be using the web site to get an answer to your question. Nice! Zappos smartly allows customers access to a real, live person when they need it. And sometimes, you do.

So, as we near the end of the year and start to think about goals for 2009, keep considering how you can leverage technology to help your business or your self. But also consider where a human touch, instead of technology, may be a more appropriate choice.

If I was with you right now, I’d hug you. Just for reading this.