Amazon’s Language Problem

Amazon Screenshot

I’ve debated for weeks whether to write this post (I apologize in advance. It’s long). I’m questioning my relationship with Amazon. How, you might ask, does my relationship with Amazon relate to this blog? Amazon’s language has crossed a point where I believe it warrants examination. Let’s start with a little background. I have an Amazon Prime membership, which gives me free two-day shipping and a discount on next day shipping.

From the beginning, I loved it. Then, something started happening. I started getting packages later than two days and via my postman. The shipping labels revealed that these packages were shipped via DHL. Curious, I did some checking and found that DHL didn’t deliver in my area, instead relying on USPS to complete delivery of their packages. The result? The earliest I’ll receive my package is three days, with the additional hassle of having to visit the post office myself if I’m not at home when the mail is delivered to sign for the package.

After this same chain of events happening multiple times, I decided to contact Amazon and see if I could remove DHL as a shipping option. Now, I am familiar with Amazon’s Shipping Policy, which doesn’t allow for specifying a particular shipper. However, I thought that it made sense that one could opt out of one shipper, leaving Amazon the option of all the other available companies. This idea seemed reasonable because of DHL’s inability to fulfill the expectation of an Amazon Prime Membership. I also saw I wasn’t the only one having issues with DHL via an Amazon customer discussion (link). It seemed worthwhile to contact Amazon.

First Message

Here was my first message to Amazon from last November (I wasn’t yet familiar with the official shipping policy):

I consistently have issues when anything is shipped via DHL. They do not offer delivery to my area, and any packages they receive they put in Priority Mail. UPS delivers regularly and without issues. Can I specify a shipper (UPS or FedEx) for my Prime Membership?

Here was the response from Amazon’s Customer Service:

Thank you for writing to us with your comments about DHL.

We are aware that our choice of delivery services reflects on our business as a whole, and we appreciate your feedback. I have passed your message along to our shipping department, as I know they will want to read about your experience.

Please note that, we use a variety of carriers which we have found provide the best service for our different shipping options. At this time, it is not possible to request a specific carrier for your order.

Our Standard Domestic shipping is done by the United States Postal Service, UPS, DHL, and FedEx. If you select Two-Day or One-Day Shipping, your package may be delivered by UPS, DHL, or FedEx. These shipments are delivered on weekdays only. Additionally, some exceptionally large or heavy items may be shipped by a specialty carrier such as Eagle Freight.

For more information about our shipping policies and prices, please visit our Help pages:


Thank you again for taking the time to send us your comments. We hope to see you again soon at Amazon.com.

Hmm. Ok. My comments are passed on to the shipping department. I start to see a steady stream of UPS 2nd Day, so I figure the shipping department took the hint. Then Christmas happened.

Second Message

Based on the number of my orders shipped via DHL and the less than timely delivery, I contacted Amazon in January:

Again, my issue isn’t with selecting any one particular shipper for my order. My concern is that I’ve identified one shipper in particular, DHL, that is unable to meet the expectations set by your Amazon Prime program when delivering an order to me. Otherwise, I have no preference as to who delivers my orders whether it’s FedEx, UPS, or USPS. I’m simply asking that you address the issue of where that leaves me with my Amazon Prime membership if I’m not receiving my orders in the 2-day window highlighted as a benefit of paying for a Prime membership. Does a limitation exist within Amazon’s system that you can’t flag delivery area issues related to specific carriers? I can’t believe that I’m the only one with this particular issue.

Here was Amazon’s response. This second message is where my interest in Amazon’s language perked:

Thank you for writing to us with your comments about DHL.

I apologize for the inconvenience this issue might have caused, regarding late delivery of your orders when shipped t[h]rough DHL.

We are aware that our choice of delivery services reflects on our business as a whole, and we appreciate your feedback. I have passed your message along to our shipping department, as I know they will want to read about your experience.

Thank you again for taking the time to send us your comments. We hope to see you again soon at Amazon.com.

Based on this email, I started wondering, does Amazon have a database of accepted phraseology for dealing with customer issues?

Third Message

Then, I decided to have an order shipped overnight at the end of January, and paid for the upgrade, again via Amazon Prime. My third message to Amazon explains what happened:

Again, I’ve still received no answer about Amazon’s response to ongoing service issues with DHL. I know there’s a user forum with well over 1,000 entries highlighting the issue. I also know that you’ve forwarded my previous emails to the shipping department. I’m afraid I still haven’t seen anything to indicate that Amazon is taking this issue seriously or how they plan to solve it.

Please, I would like to know why Amazon continues to ship my orders via DHL, knowing that DHL will NEVER meet the two-day Prime shipping benefit and that they rely upon a second vendor (USPS) to complete delivery. At the earliest, I won’t receive my package for three days when DHL 2-Day is used. When DHL Next Day was used for the order number I’ve included, the estimated arrival date was January 30, 2008. I didn’t receive the package until February 2, 2008. I know weather is a factor in deliveries, but please explain to me why you’re using a service that told me my package was out for delivery on January 31, and yet it didn’t appear until February 2 via USPS.

While the extra days required for a DHL delivery are frustrating enough, if I happen to not be available when the mail is delivered to sign for a DHL-shipped Amazon package, I have to travel to the post office to pick up my package. There’s no second delivery attempt made when you send my orders via DHL. I don’t care who else you send my shipments with as long as it’s NOT DHL.

And yes, I’m fully aware of your shipping policy that doesn’t allow for the selection of shipping vendors. Does Amazon care that the service practices of one of its shipping vendors reflects so poorly on it? Are there no solutions to this issue?

Amazon’s response:

Thank you for writing to us with your comments about DHL regularly not delivering within delivery estimates.

I read your complete message and we are aware that our choice of delivery services reflects on our business as a whole, and we appreciate your feedback. As you are already aware that we have passed your message along to our shipping department, who have responsibilities to look in to these issues and take actions accordingly.

Customer service is not in a position to make changes to web site features or functions. I hope you can understand customer service limitations in this regard.

Thank you again for taking the time to send us your comments.

Amazon’s Issue

If customer service isn’t actually answering customer questions, then what are they accomplishing? To be clear, I’m not angry with the individuals who had the task of responding to my emails. I’m not even sure that I’m angry at Amazon. Instead, I’m perplexed. Why have they trained their agents to NOT answer questions or solve problems?

The only acknowledgment I get about customer services limitations comes in the third message, and it’s on a topic I don’t believe I ever knowingly addressed, changing web site features. I get that scalability is an issue for any customer service department, but is Amazon’s so disconnected that its representatives can’t see they’ve told me basically the same thing every single time they’ve contacted me? Do these actions really meet Amazon’s definition of customer service?

Why isn’t Amazon talking to its customers? And why is the language that is used so obviously copy and paste? Perhaps Amazon’s size gives it a sense of invincibility. However, for a company that prides itself on a delivering a quality experience, my experience feels leaves something to be desired.

Consider the words of CEO and founder Jeff Bezos:

  • “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” (link)
  • “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” (link)
  • “And the reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.” (link)

This language seems completely opposite to the responses I’m getting via email. Why the disconnect?

Lesson Learned

I suspect Amazon will never stop using DHL for my orders, and I’m willing to bet that any message I send them will inform me they’ve sent my comments to the shipping department. In an earlier post I wrote about predictability vs. consistency. I wonder if Amazon is wise enough to recognize that their customer service is falling into the trap of predictability and not in a good way.

Amazon succeeded where other companies failed because they were different, but it’s becoming harder and harder to see the difference as they start to sound like everybody else.



3 Responses to “Amazon’s Language Problem”

  1. February 13, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    I’m not sure how to choose the best words to reply to this post. Thank you. It echoes feelings I’ve had with/for/to other organizations of the “we’re different in this ‘new’ world” when they first started out to the feeling that they’re coming from the same (product/management) factory in [insert here] once they’ve matured a little. Scalability, given internet growth/economics, is a large concern, but I don’t personally understand or believe that it is the sole reason for the current state of things.

    I don’t think that says all or half of what I wanted, but it’s a start..

  2. February 15, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Ouch. Those emails you kept getting back from Amazon ARE ridiculously copy-paste. It’s horrible! Obviously their shipping department is some sort of black hole for customer input.

    But where can they go with their (possibly) large influx of mail and requests? Do they outsource their communications/ complaints department? Do they hire 25 individuals as letter writers for day-to-day requests? Not that I have any sympathy, it’s practically unfortunate that they might be pressed for cheap solutions.

  3. 3 Britt
    February 18, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    @t h rive: Maybe I’m underestimating the number of issues, but I’m surprised by Amazon’s unclear (if even available) escalation policy. I’m almost tempted to keep emailing to see if I ever get a different response.

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