Amazon vs. Dunkin' Donuts: If You Can't Be Proactive, At Least Be Customer-Centric

Brian Cantor

Iconic for customer-centricity in its own right, Amazon is also the parent to experience poster child Zappos. Its customer support process is supposed to be flawless.

It is not. And that is not a unique comment of damnation against Amazon. No matter how revered an organization’s customer service, it is going to make mistakes. It is going to encounter—and stumble through--questions for which it has no known answer.

Given the reality that all organizations will make mistakes, it might not be fair to treat such gaffes as coupons in discounting the company’s commitment to customer-centricity. But like it or not, customers will judge a brand for failing to stay on top of service challenges and proactively deliver the best experience possible.


Harsh as it might be, that judgment only becomes a knockout punch when a brand cannot appropriately respond—wholly resolving the issue at hand while simultaneously addressing the systemic challenge that caused the problem.

Responding in that manner typically enables brands to avoid the ten-count. Responding in that manner while showing a particular passion for the customer enables brands to leave the engagement as respected—if not more respected—than they were prior to the issue.

Recent experiences with Amazon and Dunkin’ Donuts uncovered flawed practices and a stunning lack of proactivity. Neither got it right the first time. But when the issue moved into the rectification stage, only one showed the level of customer-centricity that could come close to making things right.

Amazon – Don’t blame, Fix!

Late last week, my departing roommate unexpectedly informed me that he needed to take back the television stand he had lent me. Since my TV—a $3000 Sony LED—is such a prized yet fragile possession and cannot be trusted on the floor for even a second, I knew I had to purchase a replacement before he literally pulled the stand out from under me.

That meant biting the bullet and paying for one-day shipping on my TV stand purchase (one-day Saturday delivery is an additional $8.99 for Prime members). Annoying as it might be to give into "the system," the peace of mind that I would have the stand in time is easily worth the $9.

Many years of successful experiences with Amazon erased any doubt that the product was going to come on time. If I paid for one-day delivery, I was getting that television stand the next day.

Admittedly, I ignored the blizzard that was brewing in the Northeast. Both a skeptic when it comes to weather alerts and the recipient of good luck during storms (neither my family’s New Jersey home nor my New York City apartment endured damage during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy), I did not even give a second of consideration to the idea that the snow would delay my delivery.

I have no issue acknowledging my own short-sightedness on this issue. But the reality is that Amazon—not I—is the entity solely responsible for executing the transaction and sharing all relevant information. Throughout the transaction process, Amazon provided zero doubt that my delivery would be delayed.

It took my $8.99 for Saturday delivery. It sent an email confirming the product had shipped with a Saturday arrival date. And the tracking it relayed from FedEx similarly confirmed a Saturday delivery.

Amazon never sent a revised arrival date, nor did it send any e-mail advisory or alert that the storm would get in the way of shipping. In fact, by as late as 7PM on Saturday evening, FedEx’s tracking (and the corresponding information available on Amazon) was still promising a Saturday delivery.

But by the time darkness fell on New York City, my realism kicked in, and I accepted the stand was not going to reach my apartment on time.

Though the larger issue was the fact that I would not have a stand to replace the one my friend was taking to his new apartment, I also felt swindled out of $8.99. I paid that for a confirmed delivery date, and Amazon failed to execute. FedEx, not Amazon, is likely more worthy of blame, but as I am a customer of Amazon, the burden was on them—not FedEx—to rectify the situation.

And rectify it did. After providing no more than an order number, a brief explanation of the situation and my hope for a refund, Amazon instantly agreed to provide one via live chat. I did not need to tap into my debate skills. I did not have to threaten to take my business elsewhere. I did not have to Tweet. Amazon recognized what it did wrong, recognized how the customer was affected, and did the best thing it could to make it right.

I still fault Amazon for its failure to communicate ahead of the delivery mishap. But because it was so willing to do right by its customer—and not waste time determining who was really to blame—I am no less loyal to Amazon than I was the week prior. Amazon does not do everything flawlessly, but it definitely still cares about creating favorable experiences.

Dunkin’ Do-Nots

Ever wonder how it is possible that customers remain dissatisfied despite the endless hype about the importance of the experience? Step into one of the Midtown-area Dunkin’ Donuts locations, where customer experience design goes to die.

From the moment a customer enters, he is beaten over the head with disrespect for his satisfaction. The cashiers enforce no order or line structure, which results in some customers waiting anxiously in the cold while others cut all the way up to the front. There is no set process by which orders are taken (sometimes it is the cashier, sometimes it is a cook in the back, etc), which means there is no rhyme or reason behind when the products are prepared and served. Instead of greeting with smiles, conversation, warm language and courtesy, cashiers and servers bark at customers with indifference (and actual frustration if the customer does not order in the exact, scripted format with which they are familiar).

I go because it is close, convenient and popular with coworkers. I hate myself every time I do, but it is often easy to forgive when a greasy breakfast sandwich is satiating your intense morning appetite.

But it will take more than a nutritionally-questionable egg and turkey sausage sandwich to forgive today’s encounter. After dealing with the worst line/ordering issue I have experienced there, I waited about ten minutes—twice as long as I ever have—for my food to come out.

At the time, the inaudible, mumbling server (an odd choice for the role given there are so many cashiers with loud, obnoxious voices that are nothing if not audible) called out an order that seemed to be mine, but he also mentioned "hash browns," so I assumed (as did another patron) that it was actually for someone else. It turns out that the order was probably mine; he later produced a bag of hash browns that went unclaimed.

Worried that they would have considered my order completed, I briefed the cashiers on the situation and asked them to make sure my sandwich was still on its way. They stared blankly the first three times I tried to explain what happened, providing a reaction so unhelpful that two women standing beside me could not help but to laugh.

After I firmed up my question, they finally responded that it was still being made, but no sense of urgency was put on the process—it took another five minutes. Worse, no apology, sense of reassurance or make good was offered. It was if they truly believed nothing went wrong.

And even if that is true, the fact that they are looking inward—rather than outward—to make that assumption is troubling. The success of a customer’s experience is defined by the customer, not the employees. If I’m unhappy, their intent should be to change that.

Like Amazon, the Dunkin’ Donuts location failed to pre-empt sources of dissatisfaction with a proactive commitment to great service. Unlike Amazon, they never recovered and somehow managed to worsen their already terrible reputation for customer care.

Dismiss the notion that your customer management function will work flawlessly; mistakes will happen. But the far bigger mistake is not recognizing such failures as both a mandate and opportunity to do right by the customer, proving you empathize with their pain and share their desire for restitution.