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My Dead End Customer Service Story

DEAD END SIGN

Like millions of people around the world, I happily used Amazon for lots of things. I loved the convenience of buying from Amazon. I was delighted that Amazon Photos offered such an easy (and free!) service that suggested names for the faces in tens of thousands of photos I was cataloging. I liked Amazon Prime movies. Amazon was my savior during the pandemic!

And then one day, just like that, Amazon denied me access to my account. I couldn’t log in. I tried, and was asked to contact customer service to verify something. No big deal: I did that and was assured that within 24 hours I would regain access.

But I didn’t get access. So, I called again and had the same conversation with someone, complete with the closing assurance that “within 24 hours” I would regain access.

But that didn’t happen either. And because I couldn’t log in to buy something on Amazon, that meant I couldn’t access my photos. I was mid-way through a giant process consolidating and organizing thousands of personal family photos.

And then I got an email notifying me that my Audible account was being closed. And then another Amazon service I used was closed. And then another…

Years of my photos, one hundred + Audible titles, access to my account in any way, all gone.

Of course I called. I talked to supervisors. I had more than 25 actual conversations with Amazon customer service reps. Nothing worked. Not only could they not help me, they couldn’t tell me why I had lost access. They suggested it might have something to do with my credit card, but they weren’t sure.

I looked for consumer advocates. I contacted Cory Doctorow, a well-known consumer advocate, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where I donate monthly. Cory at least wrote back, expressing interest. We maintain contact.

I looked for class action lawsuits to join. Didn’t find any. Know of one? Count me in, first in line. I’ll even be a plaintiff!

I found email addresses for some of the Amazon executives and their assistants. I knew it was a longshot to contact them directly. I never heard back.

I contacted some senior Amazon execs via LinkedIn. Again, I knew this wouldn’t go anywhere but I had no options.

I even wrote to my elected representatives. I know, it seems silly, but I did it. I never heard back.

One day, some months after having resigned myself to this situation, I had a new idea. Maybe Amazon confused my buyers account with a sellers account! Once upon a time I may have signed up for such a thing, I think? Maybe someone had hacked into my sellers account and was selling porn or something. Who knows. It was worth a try.

So I called Amazon with this new idea! The customer service rep could see that I had called more than 25 times before. This person seemed sympathetic and agreed, that maybe, just MAYBE this was the issue. They took down my info…

Not long after this I received an email from an Amazon customer service rep! This was a first! And they had assigned me a case number! I honestly thought that maybe I had cracked it. I was so excited. I eagerly replied to the person (or bot..) who wrote, and I thanked them SO MUCH for addressing my problem.

Of course, that email bounced. They had written to me from a donotreply@ address. Silly me. In my eagerness I had rushed to reply. I re-read the email and saw that there was a link for me to click. That’s how I could respond.

And guess what? I had to be logged in to access the link….

F*CK them.

Of course, not being able to log in was the whole problem I started with. I called and explained and, again, was promised that within 24 hours someone would reach out to me. But no one ever did.

And over the next few days I watched helplessly as the person (or bot) I wrote to sent one, two, and three messages, eventually concluding that I was not going to respond, and so they closed my “case.”

The thing is, they actually don’t want to interact. If they did, they’d fix this type of problem. Amazon, Facebook, etc, – these places all have the best software engineers. They could easily fix customer service dead ends like the one I and thousands of others find ourselves in. But they don’t fix it, because it’s cheaper to just handle customer service issues like mine in this way, than it is to actually provide service which might result in a solution.

The “account security department”, if there even is one staffed with humans, is a black box, accessible (it seems) to no one. Who knows: maybe it’s just a friggin’ CPU on a shelf somewhere! There’s definitely no way for a customer service agent to reach out to them. No phone extension, nothing. The customer service reps are powerless to actually help. Why?

Because THIS IS BY DESIGN. Read this important NYT article where the reporter, Seth Kugel, digs into this vile practice.

I am like so many others: I have had my run-ins with Amazon, Google, Facebook and Twitter, getting a slap on the wrist for a post or a complaint about same. Google simultaneously begs me to connect my online store to Google Shopping, and then we I do I get a barrage of emails telling me I have violated their terms of service. Evidently they think I’m selling heroin when, actually, I have a small spice store. They all use opaque algorithmic “adjudication” processes to flag violators – fair enough – but then sometimes, like in my case, there’s no actionable resolution process. Once I was banned from Twitter (which I rarely use any more) within seconds of posting something critical of a certain politician’s son who is kind of a loudmouth on social media: I called him an idiot (I stand behind this). The whole process including penalty was entirely automated. You could watch it happen. Anyway, it wasn’t nice of me and I accepted my fate and was liberated in some hours. But that was no big deal.

I was banned on Facebook once for a few days once. I don’t remember my offense, but it was based on a scoring algorithm that had determined that I had apparently accumulated enough points (complaints?) to be banned. The weird thing about that was the offending activity occurred in a company page, not on my personal account, but the ban extended across ALL pages including my personal account. It was chilling, to say the least, and reminded me a lot of China’s “social credit system“, something awful which “could never happen in America” (except it happens on tech commerce and social platforms in America many times every day). Under Facebook’s rules (apparently) my behavior under one identity affected all identities, all pages, and I ran a business or two for other people, so that was a wakeup call to get out of Facebook. I actually deleted my Facebook profile a year ago: I’m done with it.

In this situation with Amazon, my buyer’s account (the type of ordinary account we all use to buy stuff) has been suspended for reasons I seem to be unable to learn¬†about, and it’s not coming back. And Amazon uses that one login for all their services. While they might seem separate, they’re not.

My account was turned of June 15, 2021 and as I write this it’s Dec 16, 2022.

Imagine if Amazon became the source for my pharmaceutical prescriptions (as they would like to), and then because my buyers account became suspect and is put on “hold”, I can’t get refills of some critical medicine. I would have zero recourse, and they have no accountability? I don’t think so. It’s a bad, and potentially dangerous, business practice.

And it’s designed to be this way: These large tech platforms act without recourse, and then have the nerve to call this “customer service”, knowing that there are some casualties, like me, whose crime is determined mathematically, and whose punishment is absolute. These practices are impersonal, arbitrary, unaccountable, indefensible, and wrong. Who cares if these methods save them money. Not I. I want my 10,000 photos back.

I started this blog to collect other people’s stories. I know I am not alone, but I sure feel alone. There are thousands and thousands of people, just like me, who have been affected in this same way. There is no escape from this Hell. And it’s not just that I can’t buy stuff (I opened a new account easily enough). It’s the family photos, the audiobooks, the indignity, the impunity with which they ignore us, with no consequences.

I invite you to post your story here. If we make enough noise, they will have to listen.

7 replies on “My Dead End Customer Service Story”

I had a similar problem with Amazon. BTW, I treat Amazon the same way I treat Walmart, I avoid it if I can, but sometimes have to use it.

I hadn’t made any purchases from Amazon for many months, but about 9 months ago, I made several purchases, including the rental of a book. I actually wanted to buy the book, but they only offered to “rent” it. Weird.

On my next credit card statement, aside from my purchases from Amazon, were 11 under-$100 purchases from Amazon, all made within a 24-hour period, shortly after my purchases. I called up the bank, explained the situation, and they cancelled the card, sent me a new one, and refunded the fraudulent charges.

A couple of weeks later, I get an email from Amazon reminding me to return the rented book, or pay (at a somewhat high price) to keep it. I went to amazon.com to pay for it, but my credit card had, of course, been cancelled. When I went to update my credit card information, it required me to log in, something which I hadn’t done in years – remember “one-click” shopping! So I tried logging in with all the various passwords I might have used, but no luck. So I click on the link to update my password. So far everything is going as expected.

However, instead of getting the usual page saying that they sent me an email to reset my password, I get a page saying that there is a problem with my account and to contact customer service at the 800-number provided. I did, and got an agent who said that there was a “hold” on my account, and that they would send me by email a pdf form for me to answer some questions, then the hold would be released. BTW, the customer service agents I dealt with were clearly American, and very helpful. No blind script reading.

So I wait for the email, but it didn’t come. I know they have my correct email address, since I was still getting nag emails about the book rental. After two weeks, I called customer service again and they said they would send the pdf form again. I made sure they had the correct email address. So some weeks go by. The email nags about the book eventually stop, but I never got any form. BTW, I host my own email from my web host provider and have the spam filters turned off.

At this point, I said “Fuck it!”, and used this impasse as an excuse to sever my ties with Amazon. I still want to pay for the book, but they won’t let me. Unlike the OP, I was a light-weight user of Amazon and and had never gotten in trouble with them (or any other site). If I really need to get something from Amazon, I have friends who can buy it for me.

What I find weird about the situation is that if this kind of behavior by Amazon persists, they will eventually have no more customers!

I’m in the midst of a deadend customer service experience with Goldman Sachs and my AppleCard.

Fraud protection schemes rely on triggering declines to a transaction for those that are deemed risky against a card user’s activity and the merchant the transaction is engaging with. In the AppleCard’s case, a declined transaction triggers a message in the Wallet App notifying the user of the decline and asking for confirmation of the transaction validity. Ok, that all sounds like what you would expect. Except, in my experience, approving the transaction does not release the fraud trigger. Further, non-risky transactions like using the card to pay my co-pay at my doctor’s office were being identified as risky and was triggering declines – none of which were released after approving the transaction in Wallet.

At this point using the card was unpredictable. It was time to call customer service to see if I could resolve these issues. Ten calls, and more than 3 hours cumulative time later, there is no resolution to my issue. Despite reported “exhaustive documentation” about my issue, each rep misunderstands the situation, thinking my transactions are actual fraud, not erroneous flags from which there is no recovery. Each call results in an I’m sorry, but I see no problem. It’s a Groundhog Day conversation each time.

yes, this is the same phenomenon. Thank you for your comment. At this point I think the best thing we can do is tell our stories, and encourage others to do the same.

For the audios and movies, it’s a lesson about DRM. First worlders don’t like it when I say it and call me a thief, but we should pirate everything we can.

For the pictures, sadly there’s not much that can be done, I wish you good luck. For the future, it’s better to always have that stuff saved locally, and in other services have only copies as backup in case your device gets damaged.

I can understand how you get to this perspective. I’m not currently “there” and generally believe the old adage that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, but I can appreciate your point of view, and thank you for commenting!

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