OMG, it’s complicated

It is about my Kindle — in fact, Kindles. I have three Kindles at home. One for my son, and a Kindle DX and a Kindle 2 for me. I use Kindle DX for mostly for papers and articles, and Kindle 2 for my pleasure reading.

Although both my son and I really enjoy Kindles, we had defective screen problems with them. My son’s Kindle showed black mark on the screen twice. Each time, Amazon sent a replacement immediately as a warranty service. However, the person who processed the second replacement made a mistake and charged for it. I called Amazon to ask them to cancel the charge. Instead of cancelling the charge, the person that I spoke to process it as a refund. The problem, however, that he refunded a wrong Kindle — my Kindle, not my son’s, which was bought using my school’s account. So, they charged to my personal card and refunded to my school. God knows why he did it, but eventually, we sorted out this mess. Another Amazon person apologized for the inconvenience and I thought all the problems have been resolved.

Fast forward to early November. This time, my Kindle 2 was broken with a similar screen issue — 2/3 of the screen got blackened out. I called Amazon and they sent me a replacement. By this time, I became an expert on the Kindle replacement process! I sent back my broken Kindle 2 once I received the replacement. I thought all was well. Then, tonight (December 22), I found an e-mail from Amazon with the following message in my Spam folder:


I’m sorry for any misunderstanding. As we explained in our e-mail sent on Dec 11, your credit card will be charged the full amount for your original malfunctioning Kindle if you don’t return it to us within 30 days of the date we created your replacement order.

It typically takes us 7-14 days to process returned packages, so if you returned the original order recently, it’s possible that we haven’t processed the return yet. If you sent us your return, please call us at 1-866-321-8851 or 1-206-266-0927 (from outside the U.S.) so that we can update your account. If you didn’t use the prepaid return mailing label we provided, please have the tracking information for your return handy when you call.

I hope this explanation clarifies our policy. Thanks for choosing Kindle.

Did we answer your question?”

The problem is that (1) I never asked any question; (2) I never saw the e-mail sent on Dec 11 as it must have been sent to my spam folder which deletes messages each week; and (3) I returned the Kindle on November 24. But apparently, someone at Amazon was trying to charge for the replacement Kindle that was sent to me in November. So, I called Amazon to find out what’s the deal. The person that I spoke to, Kyle W., was a very patient, sympathetic and smart customer service representative. In fact, my impression is that Amazon seems to use its best people to handle Kindle support. At any rate, it took a long time, in fact more than an hour, for us to figure out what was going on. The problem was that he could not find any trace of the returned Kindle. In fact, he could not even find a record of them sending me a return label. He and I were completely puzzled and went through the entire record of my various Kindle history.

Finally, after about an hour, we found the original order of my broken Kindle 2 that was made back in April. To my surprise, it says that the Kindle was returned already on May 14 and the money was refunded on the same day. The problem is that it was never returned until late November. Then, I realized that someone in May tried to cancel the erroneous charge, but mistakenly refunded the charge for a wrong Kindle (I told you it is complicated). And few months later, the system still says that the Kindle was returned on May 14. So, I figured when my Kindle was actually returned in late November, the person who is handling the returned product could not update the system as the system must have been indicating that it had been already returned. The person probably felt frustrated, or thought that someone else had already processed the return, and perhaps tossed away the Kindle. So, the Kindle was never properly returned and the hardware is still missing. Well, at least, that is my theory. So, Kyle duly update the system and hoped that it would take care of the problem. But, will it?

Why am I writing it here? First, I think it is interesting and shows how a company like Amazon runs its business relying on such complicated, yet fragile, business processes. We often take these things granted; but we should remember that behind every Amazon order, every airplane ticket you bought from Orbitz, and every Christmas gift you will return (and the refund that you may or may not receive), there are so many processes that are intricately interconnected. Third and most importantly, I am not sure at all if Amazon completely resolved my problem. Given how complicated the problem was, I needed to document what happened so that I can explain it to the next person that I need to talk. I just hope that I don’t have to explain it. Again. I will keep you all posted.

Professor | Writer | Teacher Digital Innovation, Design, Organizational Genetics Case Western Reserve University

One thought on “OMG, it’s complicated

  1. 흥미로운 포스팅 잘 읽었습니다. 시스템을 디자인 하는 것이 가장 어렵고도 중요한 일이라고 생각합니다. 고객과의 커뮤니케이션에는 정말 예상치도 않은 변수들이 너무 많이 생기기 때문이죠. 그렇지만 수많은 리서치과 직관을 바탕으로 확실한 기준만 세운다면 중심이 흔들리지 않고도 다양한 사례에 대응할 수 있을 것이라고 생각합니다. 킨들 저도 써보고 싶네요.

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