A Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Brand Personality

I order a lot from Amazon. A LOT. I’m an Amazon Prime subscriber so I don’t hesitate to order 1 tube of toothpaste on Monday and a roll of tape on Thursday and have them all shipped 2nd-day air to me.  Most days, Amazon exceeds my expectations. 2-day shipments often come in 1 day. I get text messages on shipping status. When they screw up, returns are easy.
On Monday I had a unique situation. After 3 years, we’re having a new furnace put in (ours is a floor unit from 1949 and has completely stopped working). Since we have a manual floor unit, we don’t have a thermostat. So, being the tech-junkie I am I bought a NEST thermostat from Amazon – if we’re going new furnace, it’s going to be the latest tech.
On Monday, the box came from Amazon and seemed unusually large for a thermostat. I opened it and saw these:

I double checked my order and statement and sure enough, I had ordered (and paid for) ONE Nest thermostat. Amazon sent me ONE CASE which is FOUR total thermostats. A $750 mistake on their part. I tweeted (with the above picture):

No response from @Amazon but several replies from friends who all were interested in buying one from me if I decided to keep them.
I’m guessing Amazon doesn’t really track mistakes like this, but I felt the right thing to do was contact them.

So I sent this note:

Your Name: Richard Mackey
Other info:Ordered 1. Received 4.
Selected Order Items: Nest Learning Thermostat – 2nd Generation T200577
Comments:Heya. I don’t have a problem with this order, but you might.
I ordered 1 Nest Thermostat. I paid for 1 Nest Thermostat (I did double check the billing). When it arrived yesterday (after only 1 day shipping – wow!) I received 4 Nest Thermostats.
While 4 for the price of 1 was great (an unadvertised special?) I don’t really NEED more than 1 thermostat, so I’m more than happy to keep them and give them away to friends and family (who will surely evangelize the Nest brand and be super grateful to me), however I thought I should alert you to the issue, in good conscience and good faith.
What do you want me to do with the other 3 Nest Thermostats? Would you like them back or should I make it an early Merry Christmas for 3 of my techno-geek friends?
Thanks much.

When you hear from your customers, particularly if they’re demonstrating a little personality or giving you an opening, it’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your brand values, voice and personality. Borrowlenses.com gets this. Many companies do. It seems Amazon does not. Knowing their roots and brand personality, I was expecting 2 things:

  1. They will want the thermostats back.
  2. The reply will be something other than a standard “sorry for the mix up” response.

Their reply:

I’m so sorry about this delivery mix-up. You weren’t charged for anything you didn’t order.
We’d appreciate it if you could return the extra items you received. You can print a pre-paid return mailing label for this shipment using the following link:
If clicking on the link doesn’t work, please make sure you’re signed into the account you used to place the order. Once you’re signed in, try clicking it again or copying and pasting it into your browser’s address window.
This is an authorized return label and may only be used for the return of this shipment. If you’re unable to print the return label, please ask a friend or relative to print it for you.To have a friend or relative print it for you without having to login into your account, you can send them a Shared URL by:
1. Going to the Return Mailing Label page using the link above.
2. Clicking the “Link to this page” button.
3. Copying and sending the URL in the pop-up to your friend or relative.
Once you print the label, place the packing slip and extra item in the box and wrap the package securely. Then attach the return label to the package and drop it off at any UPS drop-off location.
We hope to see you again soon.
Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?
If yes, please click here: [link]
If no, please click here: [link]
Best Regards,
Monjil B.
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

I see 4 real failures here.
No personalization.
Where is my name? I sent this while logged into Amazon. It shows my name at the top of the form (auto populated) and I signed it with my name. Yet all I get is a standard “Hello,”?! It doesn’t seem like it would be too hard to even have this auto populate when the email is sent from the service rep.
No personality.
They sent a standard form letter. My note to them has a bit of humor and has a very specific, direct question at the end. A person had to have read it and looked at it. They had to have had access to my account (I know Apple knows how much I’m worth to them when I call or step up to the genius bar – they can see my purchase history). This was a prime opportunity to personalize the response and prove they’re a human Internet company.
Failure to deliver on a stated brand promise.
See that last line in the form email? “…Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.” Really? REALLY? They’re stating a piece of their brand promise to me right at the end of the least customer-centric email I’ve ever received from them. My purchase confirmations are more customer-centric than this.
Missed opportunity to reward a loyal customer.
I’m doing them a favor by identifying that I received multiple items and offering to return them. It’s $750. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things for Amazon. While they did provide an RMA and paid for return shipping (customary) I have some level of effort here. I have to print labels and re-seal two boxes. Affix a label and then drive it to a UPS drop off center. What could they have done? A token Amazon gift card would have been nice for my trouble. No – I don’t feel I’m ENTITLED to it, but I do think it would be a nice gesture given that I have to give up my time (and a bit of gas) to get this thing back to them.
The real missed opportunity.
They could have opted to let me keep the Nest thermostats. I had already chosen 3 tech-geek friends who are socially connected to give them to. Those people would have talked about it. Guaranteed. I would have had a positive brand experience. They would have had a positive brand experience. Who knows – the story could have gone viral like the Peter Shankman’s Morton’s Steak story. It could have been a win for me. A win for friends. A win for Amazon and a win for Nest.
In summary, this could have gone 3 ways.

  1. Major surprise positive. (Our bad, so keep them!)
  2. Neutral. (Response with brand personality, personalized, but yeah – send em back.)
  3. Slightly negative. (Standard reply asking for them back.)

Unfortunately, the brand lost on this one.

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4 Responses

  1. Rich,
    I love the post. Recently, I had a similar experience with Amazon. I to was hoping for a more playful response than the usual company outlined email. I hope that they see this! I will share with my friend at amazon.

    1. Thanks for the comment! It’s funny how easy it is for brands to have some personality – and they just miss it. Generally due to offshoring or using a customer service center detached from the main brand (which I suspect is the case here.)
      (Sorry I didn’t reply earlier – I didn’t get notification that a comment was posted and I was neglecting my blog again!)

  2. Happened to my friend. Sent him a lens, then sent him another lens. The lens was valued at around $700. He reported to Amazon and they said sorry, don’t worry about it.
    Happened to me when I ordered two air mattresses that were defective. The return/exchange got messed up and to apologize, they gave me a $50 Amazon card for my troubles.

    1. I’ve had that happen with Amazon as well. So I was curious what they would do here. Unfortunately, they followed a “boring corporate America” response.

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