8 Ways Amazon's Customer Service Beats the Competition
Named America’s most trusted company by a 2014 Harris Poll, Amazon continually reinvests its profits to improve communication with customers, speed up service, and find innovative delivery methods. By focusing on long-term growth over immediate profitability, Amazon has gained an extremely loyal customer base.
Here are eight ways the U.S. eCommerce giant puts service first:
1. Non-Stop Support
Amazon's customer service is everywhere. From an easy on-site customer service center, to chat rooms, blogs, and threads, the company comes to you. I've even found a CS representative on Reddit, solving problems and answering questions about early access codes for videogames. Amazon's team has the freedom to actively solve problems, not just redirect the customer.
2. Coming to a City Near You
Amazon has 78 fulfillment locations in 19 U.S. states and two provinces of Canada. The company has spent almost $14 billion on fulfillment services this decade alone. Amazon is often criticized for its low profitability, but its investments are in infrastructure that positions the company for future growth. While that money could've been easily saved, along with maintenance costs, hiring, renting, and inventory with a few centralized warehouses, nothing can compare to the lightning fast service. The vast number of fulfillment centers allows Amazon to provide faster and cheaper delivery – two huge perks for customers.
3. Flying Delivery Robots
Unless you've been living under an Internet-free rock, you've heard about Amazon's potential drone delivery service. Dubbed Prime Air, the fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles would air drop packages within 30 minutes of a customer order. Many have speculated that this announcement just before Black Friday was nothing more than a publicity stunt. Whether or not it comes to fruition or crashes and burns (not literally I hope), it has gotten customers talking about the company's futuristic ideas, advanced services and its all-around cool factor.
4. Intense Personalization
You know those emails you get that say, "Hey, Mary, look at these products!” That’s kids' stuff. Amazon is constantly perfecting a genuinely tailored shopping experience with relevant and interesting products directed to each individual. This includes personalized emails, site zones, and shipping items closer to you before you order them. That's right. Products that are viewed more frequently and for longer periods of time are sometimes preemptively shipped to warehouses closer to your location so if and when you order, they’ll get to you that much faster.
5. Easy Reordering
One-Click orders and reorders take the hassle out of getting essentials. And for items that are often ordered repeatedly (diapers, toiletries, foodstuff) Amazon lets you subscribe for a discounted price. Combining this with One-Click ordering makes the process a positive experience for retailers and customers.
6. Lenient Returns Policy
Amazon's lax return policy means customers don't have to worry about being a little too fast and loose with the One-Click shopping. Amazon makes sure items purchased from them are accepted within 30 days of receipt. On a personal note, I once ordered a product, submitted the return form, and was informed by Amazon that I would receive the refund but returning the product wasn’t necessary. And in disputes between the customer and other merchants, Amazon's willingness to put the customer first has been largely responsible for creating the most trusted brand in the country.
7. Encourages (Controlled) Competition
Customers at Amazon can either purchase an Amazon-fulfilled product or choose from another retailer who stocks it. Amazon also allows merchants to sell goods as "new" which is a rarity on selling platforms. While it’s big of the powerhouse to give competitors a shot, the company puts a lot of pressure on them to offer quality products as well as stellar service. If they don't maintain their ratings level, which is largely a reflection of their service, they can be kicked off the site. The “buy box” algorithm uses total landed price (item plus shipping), fulfillment by Amazon, company rating, and shipping time to control a user's experience.
8. Always Learning
In 2009 Amazon purchased the online shoe retailer Zappos. Admired for their stellar customer service (including a 365 day return policy), the brand clearly shared values with its new parent. But while Amazon could have enforced its own policies and regulations on the smaller company, it didn't. It allowed Zappos to continue building its brand. And what's more, Amazon adopted one of Zappos' policies. Starting this year, it offers from $2000 to $5000 to any employee who wants to quit, maintaining a dedicated staff that truly wants to be part of the team. Amazon's merge with the smaller, innovative company shows that the eCommerce giant still believes there is always more to learn.
While there is definitely a method to Amazon's madness, it is one that takes time, staff, and money to pull off. Though many of these actions aren't feasible for a small or mid-size business, they do illustrate the importance of customer service. Amazon's investment has given it a good lead on competitors, and has unsurprisingly attracted hundreds of millions of loyal shoppers along the way.
David Rekuc is marketing director at Ripen eCommerce, a full-service digital agency that specializes in delivering custom eCommerce solutions. Rekuc has contributed to the Moz blog, Entrepreneur, Internet Retailer, and MarketingLand.com, among others. For more information, visit www.ripenecommerce.com.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”