Last month, I talked to Amazon customer service about my malfunctioning Kindle, and it was great. Thirty seconds after putting in a service request on Amazon’s website, my phone rang, and the woman on the other end—let’s call her Barbara—greeted me by name and said, “I understand that you have a problem with your Kindle.” We resolved my problem in under two minutes, we got to skip the part where I carefully spell out my last name and address, and she didn’t try to upsell me on anything. After nearly a decade of ordering stuff from Amazon, I never loved the company as much as I did at that moment.
Remember, this was a customer-service call, so I was fully prepared for it to suck. Like most American consumers, my experience with service interactions is largely negative, whether it’s on the phone, in the murky depths of a commerce site, or in the aisles of an electronics store. I’m accustomed to the company being in control, and for our communication to be cold, scripted, and inhumane. Barbara’s congenial but no-nonsense approach was part of what made this experience different, but more important, she had access to exactly the right data about me, and that made the favorable exchange possible. The fact is, Amazon has been collecting my information for years—not just addresses and payment information but the identity of everything I’ve ever bought or even looked at. And while dozens of other companies do that, too, Amazon’s doing something remarkable with theirs. They’re using that data to build our relationship.
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