Earlier this year I was certain that Amazon would look to acquire Blue Apron. Instead, they decided to go head-to-head with Amazon Fresh. So what, if anything, can stop this super giant from taking over yet another marketplace: online food delivery?  Does Achilles have a heel just waiting to be discovered by an arrow from Paris’ bow?  I think so. And Amazon’s Achilles Heel has a name: stale customer service.

Stale Customer Services Meets Fresh Products

“Blasphemy, pure blasphemy”, you proclaim!  But Amazon is the king of meeting customer expectations!  Yes, I’ll be the first to admit their services are simply amazing– most of the time. But will ‘most of the time’ cut it with a time-sensitive and easily damaged product? Fresh products demand an entirely different approach to customer service than typical, unrefrigerated products, and need more than stale customer service to please customers.

Can Fresh Rise to Meet Millennial's Expectations?

I had a recent interaction with Amazon that made me briefly wonder if they can continue to provide a level of customer service that will meet the demands of fresh products, especially when it comes to Millennials. Millennials are the most demanding customers ever to walk the face of the earth, and they’ve already had their expectations met with the variety of competitors in the online meal delivery market.

A larger and larger segment of the customer base having higher expectations, by itself, isn’t enough to slow Amazon down. But that combined with a rapidly diversifying product base? Nope, still not insurmountable.  But what about the journey to Fresh?

stale customer serviceMy prediction is that Amazon’s journey into fresh products will represent their first major setback in some time. While their significant online competitors like Blue Apron, Plated, and many others already have their product delivery systems refined and running smoothly, Amazon is new to the fresh game.  And those competitors have made monumental investments in their customer service teams.

Perishable Products Lead to Limitless Support Scenarios

Here is what I know about Amazon and the Amazon support machine.  For the normal and standard things, the machine works without as much as a hiccup.  When something goes wrong, it tends to go very, very wrong.

stale customer serviceTake my recent experience with a traditional, non-perishable product.  Amazon has a support infrastructure that guides a protocol when the wrong product arrives, doesn’t arrive at all, or arrives broken.  But what about when a product arrives on-time, contains a box that should contain a product, inside the box is the instruction manual and no product at all?  There is no support protocol for that and to resolve it took a time-consuming combination of tweets, texts, phone calls, and internet chats. I definitely felt the sting of stale customer service.

Amazon eventually resolved the issue, that’s not the point.  The point is that every single thing about distributing perishable products is variable and non-standard at the same time.  One man’s ripe tomato is another man’s rotten tomato.  What happens when a fresh product arrives with a bug in it?  Imagine if there are ingredients missing? And what about when the delivery is delayed and arrives a day late, spoiling the food?  The support scenarios are endless, and judging from my personal experience, Amazon just doesn’t have the chops right now to handle those complications with their current customer service capabilities. But their competitors handle these complications daily, with seamless procedures for customers to alert the company and receive a form of compensation if appropriate (and without stale customer service).

Competitors Biting Back Market Share

As Amazon goes full speed ahead in Fresh, both traditional retailers and more experienced online delivery services will lose some market share. But I predict the pendulum will swing– and there are early indications that Fresh is struggling. And competitors are capitalizing on this opportunity to get ahead. Seemingly in response to the recent Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, Albertsons teamed up with Plated to begin selling meal kits in brick & mortar stores as well as their subscription model.

We Are Entering into the Era of Customer Experience

Demanding consumers will do what demanding consumers do.  Fresh products will continue to be stale customer servicedifferent shapes, sizes, and smells.  They will look good and taste bad.  Taste bad and look good.  Spoil too soon and ripen too slow.  All of this will set the marketplace up for a customer service revival. The winners in this game will be those focused on upping their customer experience game.  Traditional retailers and online companies alike will discover that the secret to winning isn’t any different than it’s always been.  Some purchases are just purchases, but many purchases are as much about the experience as they are the need.  Problems will always arise with online meal delivery services, but the experience hinges on how providers handle the mix-ups and outright failures. It’s companies who choose to leverage those moments with a large-scale customer service team who will win invested customers over for the long-haul.

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