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Poor Customer Service
November 3, 2013 - 9:00pm

So I’m about to call out Audible / Amazon for a terrible customer service experience that I had this weekend.

I do so with some trepidation, as I’m trying hard to establish a relationship with the people at Audible and Amazon to discover if we share some common ground around innovation in higher education. (I happen to think that higher ed has a lot to learn from companies like Amazon - although I know that this idea makes many of you uncomfortable).

My hope is that someone from Audible and/or Amazon will read this and then decide to do a root cause analysis to prevent further incidents such as what I am about to describe from happening to other customers.

On November 3rd I purchased the Kindle version of Daniel Alpert’s The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy.

This book met my two criteria for book buying:

1. A topic that I am interested in combined with strong independent reviews.
2. The availability of the book in Whispersync format, having both Kindle and Audible versions that Amazon has made Whispersync enabled.

The cost of the Kindle edition was $11.99. Adding the Audible audio version added $4.49. Total charge, $16.48.  

I was very happy with this price, as Amazon has so far done a poor job of getting the Whispersync enabled audio version of many books to a price point below that of a Platinum Audible member ($9.56 an audiobook).

I was surprised few minutes later when I got an e-mail from Audible saying that I had been charged $14.69 for the audiobook. $10.20 more than I should have been charged.

This meant that I had to call Audible customer service and see what was going on.   

In speaking to the Audible representative she could not locate the page on that showed the $4.49 Whispersync page. Even though I was looking at that page on my computer, the Audible rep was seeing something different.

After much discussion, the first offer that the Audible rep made was to refund my $14.69 for the audiobook, which she said would mean that the Audible book would then disappear from my library.  That sounded like a terrible idea to me, as a) it scares me that they can “disappear books from my library” (if they really do that), and b) I had already gone for a run and started to listen to the book.    

Can Audible remove books from my Audible app on my iPhone? I know that Amazon can do that with the Kindle. That would be very disturbing.

So I said no to that offer.

The Audible reps next idea was to remote into my computer so that she could see what I was seeing on She said that unless she could verify that I was seeing a page where the Whispersync Audible version was $4.49 that she could not refund the difference.

Having Audible, Amazon, or any company remote into my computer also makes me very nervous.

The fact that someone from Audible was seeing different information on Amazon than what I was seeing also made me a bit concerned.

At this point I was worried about having to go through this with Amazon, and besides I’m enjoying listening to the book. So I reluctantly agreed to let the Audible rep remote into my computer.  This involved installing GoToAssist on my laptop, and giving the Audible rep permission to control my laptop.

Once the Audible rep was able to view my screen she could indeed see the Amazon page with the $4.49 Whispersync deal.  Now that she knew that I was not lying she was able to say that she will refund my credit card the $10.20.   I have yet to get any confirmation from Audible that they have indeed funded my credit card.   To apologize for the inconvenience of making me stay on the phone for over 30 minutes to get this straightened out the Audible rep put a $10 credit in my account.

From where I sit this was a pretty terrible customer service experience, and one that gives me new worries about Audible and Amazon. 

The fact that Amazon and Audible can mess up how much they charge your credit card, and then remove digital books that you have purchased if their is some problem, makes me worried about how secure my digital book library really is.

The fact that the only way to get this straightened (I hope) was to give permission for Audible to take control of my computer makes me wonder where my autonomy in this book purchase exchange begins or ends.

Does Audible and Amazon really have so many people calling their help line trying to scam them that they cannot believe the customer when someone calls in with a problem?

Does my long history as an Audible Platinum customer even register with customer support?

Is there a larger story here about how we are increasingly dependent on one company (Amazon) for our book purchases and book reading? (At least I'm now totally locked in with Amazon).

Should we be concerned about the cost that we may pay when one company can dominate the market, left immune from competitive pressures to improve their pricing or customer service?

For me, reading and Amazon (Kindle/Audible) have become so tightly intertwined that it is hard to untangle the two.    

What am I sacrificing for the pleasures of being able to instantly purchase my books and read them on the platforms of my choosing?

Will my personal experience with Amazon / Audible this weekend will be played out on a larger scale with our academic libraries?

As we move towards a digital world where we no longer own our content, but rent our information as a service, we will be dependent on the quality of our vendor relationships to provide our services.

This shift will open up amazing new opportunities and choices for our institutions, our students, and our faculty. But we will also pay a price in a loss autonomy and control. 

Mostly those trade-offs will be, on net, good bargains. Except when they are not.


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