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I feel really bad for the guy and I hope this gets enough media attention for Amazon to actually care about helping him.

But this is the world we are headed toward with people continuing to stake their entire livelihoods on services with almost non-existent customer service. Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

If they won't give you a phone number that rings through to an actual human being promptly, you shouldn't allow yourself to become dependent upon said service continuing to work. Let alone base your entire income and the incomes of employees under you on it. That's just incredibly irresponsible.




Why is a phone the gold standard for support? If I have to talk to someone on the phone, it means I have exhausted every other possible method to resolve my problem, and I am furious with the company for making me talk to an idiot in real time.

What I want is an issue tracker that has responsive, accountable, people on the other end. That's my ideal support experience. Phones are the worst case scenario.


> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

The phone provides a means of contacting a human being who is (more or less) constrained to respond to you in some fashion, rather than being able to simply fail to acknowledge what you say.

Any system that provided contact with a human who actually responded would be satisfactory. Bonus points if the human has the authority to escalate things they THEY (not the irate customer) believe that they need to be escalated.

I'd love to start a company that offered this sort of communication AS A SERVICE. In fact, I could run a very successful business just offering "talk to a human" services for one or two big companies (Google, I'm talking to you). But the problem is how to get the company to cooperate -- it would require "political connections" within a company with poor customer service.


> I'd love to start a company that offered this sort of communication AS A SERVICE.

My company does exactly this (mostly for multilingual support), and I'm pretty sure it's pretty common (and in some cases exceedingly disliked by customers -- I'm looking at you, offshore support) to outsource your phone customer service.


> it's pretty common (and in some cases exceedingly disliked by customers -- I'm looking at you, offshore support) to outsource your phone customer service.

Good point. It _is_ disliked by customers. The only thing worse than outsourced customer service is ABSOLUTELY NO customer service.


> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

Bandwidth and latency. You can convey, to a human at least, much more with your tone, cadence, etc, than over email or even chat. You will also get much quicker responses and more empathy because of this, and because of the cultural norms around polite conversation (answering when spoken to, etc). You will also be able to judge better the listener's level of empathy and react accordingly.

Text is great for recording and distributing facts, but not so for emotions and the rest of the human psyche, which play a huge part in support and customer service.


You are assuming a case where both the caller and callee speak the same language and speak it with a proficiency that allows them to convey and pick up on tone, cadence, etc. I'd rather take my chances with good email support.


In addition, phone support almost always involves waiting for ~5-10 min, with a good chance you'll be transferred 3 times and have your call dropped increases to ~50% odds the longer you're on the call. Each time you start over from the beginning.

Email and chat support doesn't have this UX issue.


That's exactly why many companies offer support in multiple languages (with a phone menu or separate numbers) and hire people who are fluent in those languages specifically for phone support. I can say this with certainty because it's one of the services my current employer provides.


For the kind of difficult issues being discussed here it is already challenging to train staff in a single language capable and with the proper authority to resolve. A company operating in Europe has 20+ languages to deal with... (I work for a company doing customer service in 12 languages, we deliberately do not offer phone support because escalating or forwarding anything becomes unmanageable)


It's not unmanageable, but it does depend on the user base and the expectations set from the first sales call. My current employer is a truly worldwide company - we officially provide support in 6 languages via phone and email and make it clear that English is the business language when we don't have a dedicated language support team. Our users are told quite clearly by regional sales teams that higher tier support is done in English and local major languages only. (I.e,. Apac escalated cases only have Chinese and English as options)

While there are occasional hiccups, more often our biggest complaint is time zone differences not language, since calls are routed to the proper language queue world wide. Our support staff is chosen for tech knowledge and comfort with language and customer service skills.

Now I mention userbase mattering since were primarily working with it professionals not your average computer user. There seems to be a higher likelihood that tech people world wide know at least some English or have someone in office who speaks it. If truly no one in the customer's business speaks English, we've gotten by on translate tools and a lot of patience and understanding. The rather specific nature of our product allows a narrower vocabulary to be used, and support works well even if we don't understand each other through spoken word.

This obviously couldn't work for all things - a large enough userbase tends to have no common denominator you can rely on. But if your product Has a clear customer in mind with a certain background multi lingual phone support is plenty possible.


True, but now you have 1000x the latency, and possible dropped packets.


> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

It's not so much "on the phone", as "talking to an actual human being whose job it is to help solve problems like mine". The 'phone' part of it is mostly incidental, although obviously it works better than typing for people who aren't as comfortable with keyboards.


That makes sense. I mean, I'm also frustrated by the inhuman and inhumane support provided by companies like Google, Amazon, PayPal, etc. I just don't like that the thing people fixate on is whether you can call the company. You can call Comcast on the phone, but nobody is going to say Comcast has good customer service.

Even for non-technical, non-complicated stuff, where going off-script isn't a concern, it's still such a tedious waste of time to have to call someone. I get angry at T-Mobile about once every couple of months (I've got a complicated and expensive mobile broadband habit, spread across two providers, so I spend a lot of time fiddling with my mobile data plans), because their website often won't let me change service without talking to a human.


Because you're pretty much guaranteed an instant answer for every question you ask. It's live 1 to 1 and instant. They can't patch you or put you in some backlog.


I don't want instant answers. I want right answers, in a timely manner. That's entirely doable in a ticket system. Not so much with phone support...at least, not in my experience. Phone support generally has a script. When your problem diverges from the script, the person on the phone is of negative value. I want my problem triaged to someone who can solve it, not hear how very sorry they are and how much they appreciate my patience.

If I sound bitter...well, I really hate phones. My favorite support experiences have never been on the phone. Chat maybe, email maybe, phone never.


> I don't want instant answers. I want right answers, in a timely manner.

THIS. TIMES. A. MILLION.

Call centers put pressure on employees, especially good ones to wrap up calls quickly to keep their numbers high (because shitty policies result in a ton of people calling) meaning that even if you get a rep who legitimately wants to help you, they are punished in their job if they try too hard to do that (or take too long.)

Sidebar; Maybe this is a generational thing, I hate the phone. I hate being on the phone, I hate using the phone. If I have to talk to sales reps I'd much rather do it over email/in person, but not over the phone.


Email support makes it too easy to cut-n-paste replies. I've had too many interactions where I spell out a problem - along with resolutions I've tried - and then receive an obvious generic response (Evernote support - looking at you). It can take multiple rounds to resolve the issue, and it's infuriating.


That's very true, but email comes with a written record of everything that's happened so far which makes dealing with that sort of issue a lot simpler. I mean the phone alternative is where you get transferred from dept. to dept., having to re-explain the issue over and over again. I'll take a copy-paste reply over that any day of the week.


For some situations a discussion can actually make explaining a complex problem much easier.

But for the most part I think phone support is a less efficient way to work and actually waste a lot of time both for the customer (waiting in line) and support side. It's expensive for the company but because it's expensive and cumbersome it works as a form of escalation. And given that they are wasting time & money keeping someone on phone might mean they provide some form of support. At least thats what I think.

So it really isn't the best way to support for the most part. But depending on the issue after its triaged, tracked through a issue tracker sometimes a proper phone/conference call might actually be helpful.


Please hold while I transfer you to someone who has a counterexample to that statement.

hold music plays


Sure, but the same time their answers don't mean anything. I've had more situations than I can count where a rep said something that wasn't actually true. I will only communicate in written text with companies for this specific reason.


> Why is a phone the gold standard for support?

Because it's comforting to know that someone is actually looking at your problem and that it's just not awaiting for automation on some pile. Most of the times when I have a problem I need it fixed straight away.

And because companies forums/frequently asked questions/chat/whatever don't cover all your support needs. It's often a big labyrinth. I personally passed through some hard times with Microsoft, Google and Vodafone. Glad that with Amazon, chat support has been very helpful so far.


I have never had an email fix an issue in under an hour.

Which is the real problem, phone calls cost companies more so they prioritize getting you off the phone.


Ah missed this comment. I think I just explained this above much less elegantly.


What I see is a world that cannot deal with unique situations. I had an issue with fraud on my paypal account. I got refunded, at the same time I got a automatic draft. My account then went negative because it didnt pull from my bank account which is my usual source of funding.

Telling paypal that a mistake had been made and it was their fault they didnt really know what to do. I got passed around 12 times over a few dollars. They basically didnt know how to handle a unique situation. I have similar experience with my bank.

Customer service teams are homoginized to only deal with volume, they are never trained on how to solve problems.

These automation issues just let that same system float to the top.


Were you talking to their fraud department? Did you also talk to your bank's fraud department? I've actually gotten pretty excellent customer service from fraud departments. Not so much with the regular front-line customer service departments.


Yes, blame the victims for working to support their families. That will surely be productive...

Amazon does have a seller support line. So what do you want people to do? Google "Selling on Amazon sucks" and then base their life on the opinion of some random strangers on the internet? What about the 99.9% of people who sell on Amazon and have positive experiences but don't bother to write about it? If we held other employers to the same standard using GlassDoor reviews, half the country would have nowhere to work.

"Honey, I could be making thousands of dollars a month selling this product I created on Amazon, but I'm going to take a part-time job instead because Joe Schmoe said Amazon has poor service. I'm sure little Timmy won't mind going hungry as long as he knows I did the responsible thing according to byuu."


> Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

While the point you're making is certainly valid and most of these big companies we've come to rely on have next to zero customer service, I just wanted to say that in the case of PayPal I recently had to resolve an issue with a purchase (with Musician's Friend, who I will never, EVER do business with again, but that's another story) and their customer service was actually pretty decent. Granted, I had to make a couple phone calls to them before I got a "good" agent that was able/willing to resolve my issue, but I'd take that experience over calling the likes of AT&T or Comcast any day.


My experience with Paypal has been great as a buyer, bad as a seller.

I personally know someone who had their account suspended because apparently Paypal doesn't like emulators -- something not stated in their terms of service. When this happens, they lock you out of your funds. No warning, no notice, hope you didn't need those funds to pay bills.

Your experience may have gone well, but even a cursory Google search for "Paypal sucks" returns 1.5 million results. That doesn't inspire confidence in me. If I instead search for "Stripe sucks", I get 970 results, and most aren't related to the credit card processing company.

I would never offer Paypal as a way to buy things from a small business I ran, unless it was large enough that I could afford to lose a month's revenue from them.

AT&T, at least in the non-essential personal utilities space ... yeah they are complete garbage as well. I paid for the three-month DirecTV Now plan. The service has yet to work on any of my PCs. They do not support the service by phone at all. Their online chat has been busy all 20 times I've checked it. They don't respond from their Twitter account. They direct you to a forum to post about your problems, and then don't respond to issues there. They refuse to issue refunds.

I don't know what I would do if I needed commercial internet service. Probably go for having open accounts with multiple service providers.


> When this happens, they lock you out of your funds. No warning, no notice, hope you didn't need those funds to pay bills.

Wait, how do they keep someone from accessing their own bank directly? Surely this friend of yours did not keep a balance in their PayPal account. If he actually did that, what was he expecting? A brief search online will tell you that's not a wise thing to do.


Glad I went with Stripe. Recommend them too.


"emulators"?


Software emulators. Programs to allow you to run software for one platform on another. Something that is perfectly legal, yet was apparently enough for Paypal to kill an account over.

Reference: https://yabause.org/2016/05/26/donation-changes/

That exact field doesn't matter so much as the fact that they can kill your account for absolutely any reason they feel like, even when what you're doing is perfectly legal and not against their stated terms of service.


PC programs that run old Sega or Nintendo games. Debatably legal, and PayPal doesn't want to give money to people involved in debatably legal things.


Emulators are 100% legal. Don't get them confused with the ROMs ribbing on them. ROMs are duplicate copies of someone's IP.


There is debate over software emulators legality?


Ah, I see. I think in the U.S. those are pretty firmly established as legal under 'fair use'.


You're coming at this from the perspective of a buyer. From a seller's perspective, Paypal can be incredibly infuriating and lock funds from you with little to no immediate recourse or options.


Few months ago, I couldn't login to my account after failing to answer some questions. Then, my entire Amazon account was suspended because i couldn't remember the mailing address in file in order to reactivate my account. At the end, they asked me to recreate a new account and all my digital purchases are gone forever. Their customer support staff were also very rude and unfriendly when i called them up.

Why can't just they send me a password reset thru email like most companies do?


I too had good experience with paypal on both ends (payer and recipient).


I'll admit I've never considered what a position that puts you in, but it makes sense. Especially if you have employees, that's incredibly vulnerable. I suppose I figured if you were doing enough business with a company you'd reach a level of support indicative of how much money you're generating for them. Just like many banks have specialized agents for fiduciary level money.


Is scale part of the problem? I could generate $2 million a month in sales for Amazon and it'd be a drop in the proverbial bucket.


>Companies like Amazon, Google, Paypal, you name it.

You mean the companies a lot of us here work for and should be able to have some influence over but ... don't because they let us play with "Oooooh shiny!" and because we'll be moved on to the next place in a year and a half? Those companies?

We are part of the problem, too.


> ... you shouldn't allow yourself to become dependent upon said service continuing to work.

This is easy to say but can be difficult in practice. Even if they did provide a phone number, there's still no guarantee.

Any business is going to have to depend on multiple individual providers, any one of whom could inadvertently shut you down. Your bank, your energy supplier, etc. Trying to mitigate for such scenarios is near impossible as a small business. It's worth remembering the flip side of the current story. This individual was able to sustain their family and two employees from this business. That's impressive. That an innocuous change on one device can have such a negative impact, with no warning, is a heinous oversight on Amazon's part.


with the recent google stunt where they blocked 200+ email accounts, I have been planning to move over to some other paid email service and replace all of the google products that I use. The only thing I cant replace is the android and I need a gmail account for it to work :-/


You can create a Google account without a Gmail account. Look for the link "I prefer to use my current email address" when creating a Google account.


Yeah, that one terrified me as well. I was strongly considering setting up their e-mail for domains service until I read about that.


Fwiw seller support has a phone number that gets a human within a minute or so.


Well, you know what I mean. You need someone that will actually help when there's a problem beyond selling you more services.

For major companies, this stuff is easy to find out, thanks to people sharing their experiences as in that Reddit post. There's entire websites dedicated to countless horror stories of Paypal locking out small business funds arbitrarily with no recourse. Google is infamous in never responding to their customers.

If you're going to base your entire income on it, then do a day or two of research. Try and find stories from people who have had serious account issues: stolen identities, suspended accounts, you name it. Call and talk to people at the company and ask them what their policies are.

If you get Amazon on the phone and ask them, they'd tell you their phone support team won't help if your account is suspended. Make them go on record. If they lie, you have a solid legal case to bring forward.

It's okay to take some risk if you have a backup plan. Okay, Google shuts down my business e-mail account. But I have all messages downloaded daily, and I can switch tomorrow to this VPS e-mail server I set up. That's fine.

It's not okay to be so cavalier if an account suspension will cost you your home and require you to lay off two employees.

Again, I'm not trying to rag on the poor guy this happened to. Hindsight is always 20/20. I'm trying to warn people against getting into the same situation he found himself in.


The problem is that very few people start out relying on services like Amazon. They're a normal small business and then decide to try and sell some excess inventory through Amazon as an experiment. It goes well so they sell some more. 12 months later they've hired 5 people to deal with demand, the original business has withered, ...


As we've said over and over on this site: It's always a risk when you build for somebody else's platform. You need to mitigate that risk.




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