Posts Tagged Amazon

Customer Service whose job is it anyway?

If you follow my blog you’ll be well aware of my recent trials and tribulations I’ve been having with Dell. I suppose like many others before me I innocently thought that when I placed the order that I was buying from Dell and that they would take accountability for my order until it was delivered. Sounds sensible don’t it? Well from the many conversations I have had with them during this debacle this obviously wasn’t the case. For example, here are some quotes I got from their call centre that made me think otherwise:

“Our customer service team is not to blame for mismanaging your expectation; the delay to your order was a supplier issue and it was beyond our control.” – and who picks the supplier?

“Your order is delayed because of a high level of demand at this time of the year.” – I always thought supply was a vendor issue not a customer issue?

“Delivery is now with UPS and you should talk to them about the status of your order.” – erm, I thought my order was placed with Dell not UPS?

It’s quite obvious here that Dell didn’t take ‘end to end’ accountability for my order and therefore the customer experience I recieved was abysmally poor.

Another example I’ve had recently is with Next Directory, if you’re from the UK you’ll know of them as the catalogue outlet part of high street chain of clothing stores right… well I thought the same but it turns out I was wrong!!! In this scenario I ordered something for collection at one of their high street stores. They sent me a email that it was ready for collection, so off I go to collect. When I arrive it isn’t there, there has been a delay and this is what I’m told by the Next shop assistant?

“Sorry your order isn’t here it’s because Next Directory isn’t part of Next and so it’s not under our control.”

Sigh! How about a simple hang on a minute, I’ll check with the Next Directory people for you… would have turned this into a good experience instead of a poor one.

In both cases there was a clear lack of accountability, if someone had taken accountability instead of saying it’s not my job then they could have dramatically changed my experience.

Now compare this to Amazon (Amazing), and a department store called John Lewis in the UK… they both have amazing customer experience because no matter who you talk to they look after you and their people make sure your issue is resolved whether it is their primary role or not.

The lesson here is very simple… no matter what role you have in a company, you are accountable for customer experience… do everything you possibly can, and then a bit more, to make sure your customers have a good one.

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Amazon = Amazing Customer Experience

I’ve not posted for a while but I feel the need to blog tonight about the most fantastic service I experienced lately from Amazon.

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that I’ve previously raved about the Amazon Kindle. It’s a fantastic device and I have to say that it’s been used daily since the day I got it. Well sadly on Saturday gone it gave up the ghost, the screen was showing corruption and despite trying the reset instructions it was kaput.

So, I googled the problem and came across a URL for Amazon support. I logged in with my normal Amazon credentials and was presented with a support page with a button saying something like “press here if you would like someone to call you back.” Well the next bit was amazing, I pressed the button and my phone rang immediately, I mean within milliseconds.

Upon being greeted by an agent who was knowledgeable about the Kindle, as opposed to someone who merely logged my call and put me on hold for someone else, we went through the details of my problem.

When it was apparent that the device was faulty I was transferred to another department to sort out a replacement. Again this was instant, no being put on hold etc.

A few more details were taken about the source of the device etc, which happened to be a gift, but at no time did I think my integrity was being challenged.

Anyway the upshot was that two days later my replacement Kindle arrived free of charge, and Amazon have covered all costs to have the faulty one collected.

Now that’s an extraordinary customer experience… will I be shopping with Amazon again?

You bet I will…

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Exceeding expectations, The Amazon Kindle – I like it…

I’ve been an iPad supporter for some time now and just this week acquired a Kindle for the first time. Taking it out of the packaging I was surprised to find it was fully charged and ready to use. It’s fair to say I can’t remember ever getting an electronic device that has come ready to run, great start.

Connecting it to the network was very easy, in fact I was in proximity of an open wireless connection and it took less than a couple of seconds. So, I’m switched on and connected, the screen looks excellent, black and white yes, but good contrast and very easy to read.

All, good so far, but having a rummage around the options I’m finding it hard work… I’m so used to the touch screen of the iPad, I keep forgetting I have the use the keyboard and buttons to navigate. Anyway, I persist and after a little while I get the hang of it, so it’s time to get hold of a book.

Actually, I already have purchased some books as I’ve been using Kindle for the iPad and what happens next is very cool. When I open the book on the Kindle, it takes me to the place in the book that I’m up to on the iPad… now that’s very clever, a big well done to the designers.

Next time I pick it up I discover the Experimental options under the main menu. Here I find a web browser, which is good enough to use for basic browsing and I’ve used it to access my webmail. Like the iPad though it doesn’t support flash. Also, It’s a bit restrictive viewing web pages in portrait mode and whilst you can change the orientation to be landscape it doesn’t really work as the keyboard is then in the wrong place, but hey… It’s a freebie; I didn’t even know the Kindle had a web browser.  

In summary, I like it… it does what it says on the tin plus some unexpected surprises. What’s more it’s less than half the size and weighs a fraction of the iPad. If I want a device to take with me on holiday to read books then the Kindle would win hands down.

I wonder how good it is a squishing mosquitoes?

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How much do public clouds cost and are all things equal?

Most people have heard about the cloud and the benefit it brings in the shape of pay for what you use and rapid provisioning etc… Simple right… well yes and no.

Taking Amazon EC2 as an example… its sounds pretty simple to begin with…

Pay only for what you use. There is no minimum fee. Estimate your monthly bill using AWS Simple Monthly Calculator. The prices listed are based on the Region in which your instance is running. For a detailed comparison between On-Demand Instances, Reserved Instances and Spot Instances, see Amazon EC2 Instance Purchasing Options.

But read on, and you discover you can choose between ‘free tier’ or ‘on-demand’ or ‘reserved instances’ both with different pricing models, and you can even bid to buy unused capacity in the shape of a ‘spot instance’. You’re maybe thinking that when you’ve worked this all out then you’re done… not quite. On top of this you then incur data transfer charges, elastic load balancing and Amazon S3 block storage charges.

I wonder how many people pick something small and simply put their credit card details in hoping the bill at the end of the month won’t be too bad?

Well, a word of advice… If you’re running a small application periodically (and remember to shut it down, because you’ll still be charged if you leave the lights on) then you’ll be amazed how little this costs. However, if you’re running a decent sized business application 24×7 then you’ll be amazed how much the costs mount up… and you might even resort to searching for the chap who told you that cloud was cheaper than owning your own hardware.

To compare and contrast let’s have a look how Microsoft promote Azure, again pretty simple on the surface:

You have two basic types of offers to choose from when purchasing a Windows Azure platform subscription. The first type is consumption offers. This type requires no commitment – you pay only for what you use. The second type of offer is a commitment offer that provides a significantly discounted level of service in return for a six month commitment to pay a monthly base fee. Any usage in excess of this amount is charged at our standard consumption rates. Here is a summary of our different plans:  

There is also a MSDN Premium license for developers, but like Amazon when you get into the detail it can be complex. What’s more they offer packages in the shape of a Development Accelerator Core a Development Accelerator Extended and a SQL Azure Development Accelerator Core … Fantastic… erm no… this is confusing for a seasoned IT person. I wonder what a small or medium sized business looking to move some systems to the cloud would make of it. 

Rackspace are another one of the ‘big cloud players’ and their proposition seems much easier to understand on the surface:

You pay for each Cloud Server (virtual instance) by the hour. For your convenience, the monthly totals are also listed here.

However, on top of the basic instance you again have to pay for data transfer costs and also you need to pay for cloud files storage (similar to Amazon S3) and the cost varies depending if you run a Linux or the more expensive Windows OS. 

Amazon, Microsoft and Rackspace, although big names, are only a small sample of dozens of cloud providers operating today…  have a look at www.cloudpricecalculator.com to see some of the others.

The cloud is for everyone, but not for everything…

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The “One for all and all for one” Cloud…

I was intrigued by this story from the BBC website last night on how 70 big name firms had formed an alliance to drive Cloud standards. The story begins :

Some of the world’s biggest companies are using their market clout to demand that computer equipment makers change the way they make their machines.

The 70 firms, which includes BMW, Shell and Marriott Hotels, said systems that do not work together are holding back the spread of Cloud computing.

The companies have formed the Open Data Alliance Centre to push for unified standards for technology.

Standardisation is something that has been talked about for some time in the industry, and whilst I fully support standardisation and applaud the concept, I have some concerns.

Why do I feel this way?

Well, in my recent post when the industry is crying out for standards, why reinvent the wheel, you can see just how difficult it is to get a simple xml schema adopted for sharing transactions across heterogeneous systems.

I am pro Cloud and pro standards, and I feel a “Cloud standard” would indeed be a fantastic thing as it would remove a number of barriers blocking Cloud adoption today:

  • It would remove the vendor lock in fear and put choice back into the hands of the customer by enabling the movement of customer applications and services between Cloud vendors, should the customer need to.
  • It would allow customers to run and have interoperability between different applications and services hosted on different Clouds, i.e. it is highly improbable for all aspects of a businesses need for systems to be available from a single Cloud provider.
  • It would also help bridge the gap between the Cloud and the millions (billions) of desktop software applications.
  • If we started with a security standard then that would allay the many fears that people have about Cloud Security, almost in the same way that certification works today.

So what would prevent this, well maybe we have to look no further than the Cloud vendors themselves? What would be their competitive advantage if all were equal? What would separate the big guys from the small guys? Would it stifle innovation? And how long would it be before there was a breakaway?

We have seen this many times before in the world of technology, you only have to think back to Java and how Microsoft broke the language when they launched their own flavour … J++ .

Will the Amazons, Azure and Other major players come to the table in the spirit of altruism? Or may they not need to should “Open Source Cloud” gather significant momentum, much in the same way that Linux has become the defacto supercomputer OS.

The seeds may have been planted already… In a very interesting move earlier this year, 25 Cloud vendors including the likes of Rackspace, Dell and Citrix teamed up with NASA on the OpenStack project. The press release started:

San Antonio, TX – July 19, 2010 – Rackspace® Hosting (NYSE:RAX) today announced the launch of OpenStack™, an open-source Cloud platform designed to foster the emergence of technology standards and Cloud interoperability. Rackspace, the leading specialist in the hosting and Cloud computing industry, is donating the code that powers its Cloud Files and Cloud Servers public-Cloud offerings to the OpenStack project.  The project will also incorporate technology that powers the NASA Nebula Cloud Platform.  Rackspace and NASA plan to actively collaborate on joint technology development and leverage the efforts of open-source software developers worldwide.

And goes on to tackle the standards question by saying:

“We are founding the OpenStack initiative to help drive industry standards, prevent vendor lock-in and generally increase the velocity of innovation in Cloud technologies,” said Lew Moorman, President, Cloud and CSO at Rackspace. “We are proud to have NASA’s support in this effort.  Its Nebula Cloud Platform is a tremendous boost to the OpenStack community. We expect ongoing collaboration with NASA and the rest of the community to drive more-rapid Cloud adoption and innovation, in the private and public spheres.”

This could be exactly what’s required to move the standards argument forward, and I for one will be following it with great interest.

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