One of the issues with having both a consumer-focused business and an enterprise business is that folks who deal with enterprise decisions during the day are consumers all the time. If you screw with someone on the consumer side, you’ll likely lose them on the enterprise side as well and vice versa. In addition, particularly with something like AWS, you expect the consumer business to use good customer retention and management skills. Well, after waking up recently to every one of my Echos, Kindles and Fire TVs being deregistered and not working, and being locked out of my account for daring to question a questionable Amazon charge, I wouldn’t touch an Amazon enterprise product with someone else’s 10-foot pole. And I think, had this happened to you, you’d feel the same.
Let me walk you through my experience.
A Little History
One of the problems with big companies is that policies often get muddled and/or employees go off the reservation. I have two examples of this. Once, at IBM, we had a tech who was told a customer declined to buy a service agreement because they didn’t feel they needed one. The tech, I guess to make a point, went in and disabled the customer’s telephone system so they couldn’t receive or make external phone calls, not aware that the head of the division was on that firm’s board. I don’t think his feet were allowed to even touch the ground as he was escorted out of the building. But he critically damaged the relationship with that company which, from then on, avoided buying from us for good reason.
The other example was the departing tech who disabled President Trump’s Twitter account, following policy, but apparently not realizing he was messing with the president of the U.S. Even though the employee was gone, this certainly didn’t reflect well on Twitter and likely hurt any job recommendation that the departed employee might have been depending on for a future career.
This stuff can happen but companies like EMC, now Dell Technologies, have put in place analytics systems that increasingly instrument customers so, if a mistake like this is made, it is corrected, often before the customer even sees it. You see, with remote monitoring and remediation, a rogue employee could put a firm out of business.
This is particularly risky with a cloud business where the firm wouldn’t even have physical access to the related hardware.
What Happened to Me
What happened to me was that I suddenly got a series of Amazon charges on a credit card I don’t use anymore. The bank report didn’t identify what was purchased and I couldn’t match the dates of the charges to similar charges on my Amazon account so, following good practice, I called the credit card company, challenged the charges, and cancelled the credit card.
The following Sunday morning, I got an alert that Amazon had seen the charge cancellation and I needed to correct it. At that same instant, virtually, every service I had with Amazon was discontinued even though all were paid up. Music services, movie service, storage, I couldn’t even log into my account and check for messages. When I called account support, they indicated that they couldn’t talk to me. All access was over email or FAX with 12- to 24-hour response times. The only thing the emails said I could do was pay the charges; they wouldn’t even work with me to understand if they were legitimate or not. The first charge they indicated I needed to pay turned out to be for one Amazon Echo Show and it was for over $1,700. That is one expensive Echo Show. By Tuesday, I had almost everything back up and running, though I did have to manually reconfigure much of it.
Now, for background context, I’ve been an Amazon customer since 1998 and a Prime member since the beginning. I spent something like $10K in November alone on Amazon. But none of that really mattered, nor did they consider that doing this to an IT analyst might create problems with their other businesses. I could have been a CIO, a member of Trump’s cabinet, I could have been on Amazon’s board and it likely would have made no difference at all. Yet doing this to any of those folks would have been more problematic than doing it to me. From my perspective, forcing me to pay money I didn’t think I owed to have things I’d already purchased, which were held hostage by Amazon (they cancelled a bunch of my orders, which had been paid for) felt like extortion. Granted, it made things easy for collections but it also was an abuse of power during a time when folks are particularly sensitive about power abuse.
Wrapping Up: Final Thoughts
With the advent of social media, screwing with customers can have severe repercussions. Keeping track of every consumer customer on social media is problematic, but making sure you constantly check policies and behavior for misbehavior and instrument the customers (politicians, celebrities, C-level executives, board members) that could become nightmares so that, if there is a problem, you can address it before it goes viral, would be wise.
Certainly, a practice where, if a customer challenges a charge through their credit card company, results in a full termination of services including the ability to call customer support, is excessively draconian and would rarely end well, particularly if that practice included AWS services. And given my earlier examples, I sure was glad I wasn’t using AWS as I’d have been literally out of business just because I dared to challenge a series of charges I couldn’t reconcile after Amazon switched credit cards without my authorization.
I’ll likely still buy from Amazon, but I sure wouldn’t put anything mission critical on AWS. But I think this is a teachable moment on three vectors. First, enterprise buyers are consumers; screw with them on one side and they’ll likely retaliate on the other. Second, employees can overreach their authority and create nightmares (recall United and the passenger dragged off the plane); making sure you have procedures to ensure that never happens would be wise. And third, there are people who can be extraordinarily expensive to mess with; instrumenting them to assure you don’t would likely be an investment well made.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+