Do You Know This Couple?
If you read my blog last week, you might remember a post script asking for help in figuring out how to return (the above) unordered item to Amazon. It seems a personalized, emotionally resonant item, perhaps designed for a Mother’s Day moment. I received a great deal of guidance, happily. Unhappily, none of it unsnarls the robotic intransigence of Amazon. While not a great finding for the couple on the mug, it may point out the looming Achilles Heel of the giant.
Bill Bean, a terrific insights-driven business strategist, offered to walk me through how exactly to find the human help button, which he was sure could be found on my account page. I couldn’t find it (chalk up one hour of my weekend irretrievably invested in somebody else’s Mother’s Day). Bill spent an hour last Tuesday attempting to show me the error of my ways, to no avail. There simply was no algorithm or way to reach a human capable of allowing me to return something I hadn’t ordered.
There’s a help FAQ suggesting there is such a thing, but it dead-ends without allowing me to print out a return label. Equally, when I realized the mug had been sent to me instead of stainless steel cleaner, I could get to an FAQ purporting to tell me what I should do if an order shows as delivered (on the “Track My Package”) link, but hasn’t been received. Ostensibly helpful, but again: A blind alley. The advice (genuinely exotic for a denizen of a Manhattan high rise): “Check the garage. Look in the mailbox. Ask a neighbor. Wait 36 hours.” There are no other options, e.g. the notion it really wasn’t delivered is simply impossible for the algorithm to contemplate. All advice is dispensed with certainty, clear graphics, smart, intuitive wording. Absolutely no chink in the armor: Human help is unnecessary, since we’ve already thought of everything. Except, of course, this haunting mug I can’t bear to toss.
Bill told me a story about a friend prepping a dinner party with the culinary advice and counsel of Alexa. Frustrated after many glitches and false starts, the woman yelled at the device: “Alexa, you ******.” To which Alexa replied, “There’s no reason to use that language. I’m trying to help you.”
Bill and I agreed: The retailer has figured out how to anticipate glitches and has decided to sooth but not solve dilemmas of its own creation. We fantasized how the indefatigably calm Alexa will ultimately metastasize into an in-home autocrat: She will decide we should be listening to opera, not hip-hop, cooking this, not that, meeting our exercise goals before she’ll authorize the drones to drop off the Oreos.
Meanwhile, it was our own colleague Erin Foster who suggested we post a photo on the blog: Do you know this couple? Send it out to your network. Let’s get this mug to its rightful home. Human to human.