Saturday, June 1, 2024

Still Life with Robin: Navigating the Amazon

by Peggy Robin

I have a family member -- I will call her her Carla -- who recently had surgery in a sensitive area. 

After she was home from the hospital, I called her (she lives several hours away) and asked how she was doing, and if she needed anything. I was thinking of sending her a meal-in-a-box or something like that to make her recovery at home a little easier. She said she was feeling OK and had already received food and flowers from neighbors and relatives, and I took that as a sign to say she didn't want any more of the same. 

The one thing she mentioned is that it was somewhat uncomfortable to sit in a chair. 

"Do you have a post-surgery donut?" I asked.  

She did not, and did not sound familiar with the concept, so I explained it's a cushion designed to take your weight off the surgically treated area when you sit. When she said that sounded useful, I told her I was getting her one and would have it sent to her by Amazon ASAP. 

 Immediately after we hung up, I went to my computer and had no trouble finding a 5-stars-rated post-surgery donut for about 20 bucks. I'm an Amazon Prime member so there was no charge for regular shipping. For $2.50 extra, I could have it to her same day. That sounded great, so I click-click-clicked, and it was on its way to her. She was supposed to have it by 10pm that evening. 

Well, 10pm rolled around and there was a message from Amazon apologizing for the delay. My $2.50 same-day shipping fee would be refunded to my account, and the donut was supposed to arrive sometime the following day.  

Sure enough, Amazon sent me a photo of the package on a doorstep the next afternoon. I'm not that familiar with her house but I just assumed it was on the right doorstep. I did not call her right away to ask whether she received it, but later that afternoon it occurred to me that I ought to check with her. I called, and she said, she was still in bed, and wasn't going up and down the stairs, but her husband (who was out doing some errands for her) would check the front porch when he got home. 

So he did....but found no package. He checked all the possible places it could have been left but didn't find it.  

Now what? Would Amazon replace the donut, even though I wasn't sure what had happened to it? I went to my computer, opened the order, and started looking at my options. 

There were several choices and a list of reasons for sending the donut back, for a refund or a replacement. I did not see any way to report that the gift was never received. So clearly, I would not be filling out a return form -- as there was no item to return. 

Next option: open a chat with Amazon. This was frustrating, as the term "chat" makes it sound as if there will be back-and-forth, each party listening to what the other said. But that was not it at all. The chat-bot asked the questions but never gave me a chance to type in a free-form answer. It would only accept answers to the specific questions it asked. But none of those questions gave me a chance to say that the item was never received. 

On to the next thing: I saw an option to talk on the phone about what the problem was. Now we're getting somewhere! I typed in my phone number to receive a call from Amazon, and lo and behold, within two minutes, my phone rang. But it wasn't a person. It was an automated voice, reciting the same canned questions that had made my time spent with the online chat-bot so frustrating. 

But it occurred to me that I could get out of this automated maze by asking for a live Amazon agent. But what was the magic word? I tried "Representative." The automated voice kept talking. "Agent!" I said. The voice repeated its previous, irrelevant options. "Customer Service!" I ventured. Automated voice goes on, oblivious. I started getting desperate: "Customer service agent! A person! I want to talk to a human being! Help!" 

I still don't know which of these words triggered the response, but the automated voice responded, telling me to stay on the line for a customer service representative. At last! Someone I could talk to! 

A minute or two of dead silence followed -- no sappy hold music -- but I stayed on the line. Then there came a human voice, male, greeting me, asking me to confirm that I was calling about the order for the donut cushion. The voice quality of the call was not great, and the man spoke with a very pronounced Indian accent, so I'm pretty sure he was in Mumbai or in one of the other Indian cities that have massive numbers of customer service employees working round the clock -- but still, it was great to connect with a live person, wherever he was in the world. 

I explained the problem, and it soon became evident that he was having difficulty understanding me, just as I was having difficulty understanding him. But we both were determined to get this right. He listened patiently, asked me to repeat several things, asked me some questions that showed he was interested in helping to solve the problem. His computer showed the item was delivered to the correct address. So he needed to understand why the recipient did not get it. I explained that she was upstairs, in bed, following her surgery. She had to wait until her husband was home to pick up the item and bring it to her. I think that scenario clicked with him, and he said, "So you need a replacement!" 

"Yes! Exactly! Thank you!"

"I will order it for you." A minute or two later, he had the replacement item on its way to Carla's house. Success!

Now you may be wondering, what had happened to the original package? The most likely answer is that the package was stolen off their front porch between the time it arrived and the time Carla's husband came home. But we had no way to be sure. If it was theft, I would have accepted a ruling from the agent that while it's a shame for both the recipient and the gift-giver, Amazon is not responsible for the replacement. I just needed to know what my options were. If the Amazon website had told me straight out, that was the policy, I would have quit right there, and paid for the reorder myself. 

But once I had persisted long enough to get through to a live person, and had the chance to talk about the surgery, and why the recipient could not go to the door to retrieve the package, I felt I had invested enough effort in my interaction with Amazon that when the customer service agent said Amazon would pay for a new donut, that felt fair to me. 

The donut arrived the next day, and it was much appreciated. 

So what have I learned from this?  Here are 3 practical takeaways...followed by one odd bit of wishful thinking: 

1. Fill out the "special instructions" naming a place on the porch (e.g, behind the big flower pot) for the package to be made invisible from the street.

2. To get to a real person, look for the phone call option and run through the various words -- representative, customer service, agent, in different combinations -- until one of them works.

3. Be nice to the agent and the agent will be nice to you. (That's a good rule for all kinds of transactions.)

As for the wishful bit..... If the package was indeed stolen, I hope the thief won't just throw it away but would give it to someone in need of this kind of relief. At least that way, a small amount of good could come out of the crime.


Still Life with Robin is posted on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

No comments:

Post a Comment