Adventures in Customer Service Who Wants to be Supervisor Today?

By Jonathan Spira on 21 May 2014
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[Editor’s note.  From time to time, Frequent Business Traveler will look at good and bad customer service practices that impact the frequent traveler.  This is the first in our series, called Adventures in Customer Service.]

A New Yorker cartoon from the late 1980s shows a room full of telephone operators, with one saying “He wants to speak to a supervisor. Whose turn is it to play ‘supervisor’ today?”

I recently had a similar experience with Amazon’s online customer service, which operates using chat.  Apparently, no one wanted to be supervisor the day I called. and other online stores with fast delivery are favorites of frequent travelers who have better uses for their time than to go to brick-and-mortar stores. offers Amazon Prime, which provides two-day “free” shipping in addition to other benefits such as access to Amazon’s library of films.  Because Amazon will ship to any address, I have found it useful to order things I need while traveling – and very cost effective to order items such as German movies from Amazon’s German operation.

Amazon is also typically quite good about returns, but a recent attempt to ask a question about a return revealed a weakness in its customer service: the apparent inability to actually answer questions directly.  Because I had used an Amazon gift card to pay for part of the purchase, I wanted confirmation that I would get that portion of the payment back.  I had had a problem once with a return using a promotional credit from Amazon, which the company will not refund, so I wanted to ensure that this would not be the case with my most recent purchase (it was a large gift card but had been provided to me as part of its A-to-z Guaranty with third party merchants).

My question, posed in chat to Jean, was simple:  if I return X, will I get a full refund even though I used a gift card for part of the payment.  The answer was off: “Upon checking here, this item can’t be cancelled now.”  “Well yes, I have the item here.  I said I received it.  I never imagined it could be cancelled,” I responded.

“Yes, this will be refunded to your American express card.”  I brought up the gift card question several times to no avail.

This dance went on for about five minutes, until finally I asked for a supervisor. The agent practically begged me to allow her to resolve the issue and my reminder that I had asked for a supervisor three prior times was met with responses that made me start to imagine that Amazon had a back room somewhere where agents transferring customers to supervisors were somehow water-boarded.  I’ll present the dialog that followed below, but the quick version is that I was transferred by Jean to Reena, and then to Bikash, and then to Rajeshwari, not a supervisor among them, despite my constant harping.  Rajeswari, to his credit, did get me to Noel, a team leader, who gave me a direct answer to my question and also offered me a $25 credit to make up for the waste of more than an hour of my time as well as his colleagues’ apparent incompetence.  I did receive an e-mail for the credit, but it was for (Canada), not for the U.S. store.  I guess I’ll have to chat with customer service again.

Click here to continue to Page 2More Supervisors and a Brief Transcript

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