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    Bob Balaban


      Technology enables excellent customer service (

      Bob Balaban  August 23 2009 04:45:00 PM
      I had a very good experience with Amazon's customer service the other day, and thinking about it, I realized that a big part of what enabled Amazon to deliver that good experience to me (and, I assume, to lots of other customers) is the technology infrastructure they have in place.

      Of course, I know virtually nothing about what systems Amazon uses, but I can infer a lot of the functionality based on what I observed. Let's see if I can splain...

      I bought a Kindle e-book reader from a friend. I had to "register" myself with an email address with Amazon to officially become the new owner of the device. Over the following couple of months, I bought a few e-books using the device itself (a big part of the value proposition of Kindle is that it is SO easy to just buy a book -- you record a credit card number, the device uses an embedded cell phone to call Amazon, you can browse or search the catalog, purchase and download the book (and other stuff too, like music). Very easy).

      Then, one day, the Kindle broke. Nothing legible showed up on the screen, only black streaks. I figured if I could contact Amazon, I could maybe send it in for fixing (for a few bucks), or whatever.

      The hardest part of the whole experience, frankly, was searching the site to figure out how to contact Kindle tech support. Eventually I landed on the right page, and encountered the first of a few new (to me, anyhow) interesting bits of technology. Instead of the toll-free phone number that I expected, it was a web fom. Groan! I was expecting to have to email in a problem report, and wait a (long) while to hear back. But no! You enter your phone number in the form, and when you submit, Amazon calls YOU. My phone rang 2 seconds after entering the number. After that, it was 2 minutes or so on hold to get to the first-level support person.

      I described the problem. The support person said they would have to pass me on to 2nd-level support. Ok, fine. It was a surprisingly short 2 more minutes on hold before the next person picked up. And surprise! They actually ALREADY KNEW what my problem was (how many times have you entered your credit card, frequent flier number, or other info, then been passed to an operator who asked for it all over again?). Refreshing.

      He asked me a couple of questions, to confirm that it was really broken. He asked me for my login id, which I gave him (it's an old email address that I don't use anymore, not the same email that I used to "register" the Kindle). Then he made a surprising leap. He asked, "Did you receive the Kindle as a gift?" He'd looked up my account and seen that there were no Kindle books in any recent orders, and no registered device. I explained that I had bought it from a friend. "Have you purchased any e-books for it?" I gave him the other email, and he said,"Ok, I see all your recent purchases for the Kindle. No problem, we'll send you a new device right away."

      From this, I infer that their tracking and accont history systems are pretty sophisticated. Tech Support Guy was able to verify my ownership without asking for credit card numbers, passwords or my birthday, even in my non-standard situation. Secure? Pretty much. He would only ship the new one to the address listed for my Amazon account. That account has a credit card listed on it, and if I didn't send the broken one back by return box within 30 days, they would charge me for the new device (perfectly reasonable, IMHO).

      They shipped the new Kindle by 2nd-day express, and emailed me a link to a return-label PDF, which I printed out and pasted to the return envelope for the broken Kindle.

      Then, final bit of tech-surprise: I asked, "How do I get all the books from the broken one to the new one?"

      "Easy!", said Tech Support Guy. The new one will be pre-registered to you when you get it. The "archives" tab will have links to all the books you previously purchased, click on the ones you want to download to the device, and pick up reading where you left off."

      Now THAT is intelligent application design, IMHO. It's not a backup of the device (after all, you don't modify books you buy, at least not yet); but of course they still have copies of all the books on, and they remember what I own. The server has some kind of web service which allows my device to download (or re-download) anything I've already paid for. Tech Support Guy also explained that I could log in to via browser on my laptop, download anything I'd already bought, and transfer it to the Kindle via USB cable. That would be how I would have to do it if I were not in North America (the cell phone in the Kindle doesn't work elsewhere). They really have all the bases covered.

      Thanks, Tech Support Guy! Thanks, Amazon! They figured out how to use computers to make my life easier. How cool is that?

      Geek ya later.

      (Need expert application development architecture/coding help? Contact me at: bbalaban,
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      1RobShaver  8/24/2009 11:39:04 AM  Technology enables excellent customer service (

      Great post. Amazon does have their act together.

      One point you touched on I wonder about, though. I haven't use a Kindle but I understand you can add margin notes as you read. (I just found this feature mentioned on the Amazon web site.) So I wonder if they get backed up to the Amazon site?

      The reason I thought of this was because I heard that when Amazon preemptively deleted the book "1984" from everyone's Kindles that at least one person lost notes he had entered as part of his school assignment.

      { Link }

      "Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said."