Thoughts on #AmazonFail


I want to ignore the debate about whether it's right or wrong to "censor" books based on the sexuality of their subject matter.

It doesn't matter, at this stage, whether Amzon's deranking of LGBTQI works was a glitch, policy or the work of trolls. What matters is the action taken by the "online community" and Amazon's reaction to it.

Firstly, why would anyone take the word of an Amazon CSR as customer policy?
I've worked in call centres - I guess a lot of people have - CSRs are almost universally treated as the bottom rung of the company. They have no insight into policy or how and why it's made. They have no power to suggest changes. They will repeat any wild rumour they've heard from their colleagues or superiors if they think it will get an angry customer off the phone.

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude "adult" material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

The CSR's comments can be safely ignored.

Of course, this raises the question of whether big companies should treat their CSRs like mini-PR agents and give them a commensurate salary boost. I believe that front line staff have more of an impact on "brand perception" and "customer loyalty" than even the glitziest of advertising campaigns.

Secondly, the "online community" seems to have a shoot first, ask questions later philosophy.
I'm pro-open-source and I think that crowd-sourcing research is a highly efficient and effective way to investigate stories. But one needs to substantiate first. Imagine if there really was a completely innocuous explanation (say someone hit the wrong button on the wrong box or Amazon were hit by hackers) all of a sudden the tide is out and we can see *exactly* who is swimming naked.

Thirdly, the immediacy of cyberspace does not map well to meatspace.
A scant few hours after the storm erupted, a blogger was asking

Is there any reason why The [Liberal Democrat] Party is still supporting and promoting them via the affiliate scheme? All the ethical people are disabling theirs.

Well... Possibly because they are part of the evil conspiracy, possibly because they wanted to see if it was true, and possibly because the person who makes those decisions was enjoying a weekend away from work. Her superiors were also probably eking what pleasure they could from the British springtime.

We don't all spend every waking moment plugged into the hyperzeitgeist that is twitter. Right now, ring your mum or ask your boss's boss what they think of #AmazonFail. I bet it won't even have crossed their radar.

The same is also true of Amazon. They've put out a press release on Tuesday - the first working day after the break.

The lesson here for big companies is that your customers are never on holiday. They expect your stores & call centres to be open at the customers' convenience, not the company's.

When I was Production Manager on Vodafone live! we would always ensure that someone responsible was on call to fix the site or answer questions on why a policy decision had been made. If we didn't know the answers, we were allowed to phone someone who did - even if it meant waking them up in the middle of the night.

Of course, this means paying overtime, TOIL or a decent wage. Something Amazon doesn't see the value in.

Finally
I honestly don't think any side in this mini-culture skirmish emerges with much glory.

Amazon need to keeps their CSRs better informed and need to make sure that someone with authority is allowed to engage with their customer base even during the holidays.

Bloggers, twitterers, facebookers should keep fighting the good fight. They also need to keep in mind Hanlon's Razor and, remember, it's ok to take a deep breath & wait more than 24 hours for an answer before breaking out the placards.

Postscript
Of course, if it turns out that Amazon have as a matter of policy deranking these books, I utterly condemn them. However, I'm sure the lost sales from bestselling authors will do more to change their minds than a boycott.

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