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Gaga + Amazon = customer service FAIL.

This past week, Amazon and Lady Gaga teamed up to offer Gaga’s just released album, Born This Way, for only $.99 (MP3 version only). Amazon and Gaga made the offer for 2 main reasons.

  1. To further promote what is most likely to be a very successful release for Lady Gaga.
  2. To help sell Amazon’s new Cloud music player.

The price was too hard to pass, and though I hadn’t planned it, I made the purchase. I had two choices – upload the Amazon Cloud or download to my computer. Amazon’s cloud service is not free, so I opted for the download version. This is where the fun began.

An Amazon downloader necessary to get the MP3 files to my computer, so I had to download the downloader (step 1). Once I opened up the download to begin the process, nothing happened. I waited and waited, but still nothing happened. I saw a notice on Twitter describing how the offer had overwhelmed Amazon to deliver the content quickly, so I stopped worrying about it assuming I would have it by the next morning if I left the downloader open.

The next morning I looked at the downloader to see that only 2 of the 14 tracks had downloaded. Worse, when I attempted to restart the process in the downloader, I was given a notice telling me that the time to download had expired. I searched around 30 minutes on the Amazon site for a solution and found nothing, so I emailed Amazon for help. The site suggested it would take up to 24 hours for a response.

I heard nothing from Amazon until Thursday morning – nearly 48 hours later. Worse than that, the response was that I could repurchase the album for only $.99 Thursday only. I immediately wrote Amazon informing them that though it was only $.99 the way I was (not) treated was enough that I would never purchase an MP3 through them again.

At the time of this writing (Thursday PM), I had not heard back from Amazon, which might take up to 24 hours. I’m interested to see if and how they respond, and if it will make a difference in how I feel about their service.

3 things you can take away from my experience:

  1. Be careful what you offer. This reminds me of the Groupon “scandal” last year involving a portrait photographer who wasn’t able to deliver on the amount of volume sold. I’m sure either Amazon didn’t anticipate the amount of response they would receive or assumed their system could handle it. Either way it was a fail and reflects poorly on both Amazon and Gaga.
  2. Make sure you have a customer service crisis system in place. No plans on colossal screw-ups. You either never see the crisis coming or assume it will be much less of an issue. Either way, it calls for an “If the worst case scenario ever happens we’ll do X.” If nothing else, you’ll be much closer to being able to quickly respond  (not react, respond) to the problem.
  3. Make all customer service responses as personal as possible. It was my choice not to call Amazon directly, but instead email them. For Amazon this cuts down on the ability to be personal in response. None-the-less, Amazon could have done better. They sent a form email in their one response to me. That email did not include a name or number to contact AND I was unable to simply reply to that email with questions – it was an unmonitored account.

I look forward to updating this post when a response does come from Amazon. I would love to hear if you had an issue with Amazon on this special promotion, or if you have a plan for when of a customer service crisis.

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Update: though the initial customer service was horrid, Amazon has come through. They responded to my last email with the full download reopened. The response was by email and was from an real person. Two negatives from the latest email:

  1. It still did not include a way to contact the person who emailed me
  2. I had to jump through a couple of hoops to download the music (though it is now on my computer)

I would upgrade my earlier assessment from an F to a C.

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