Alexa, help! Amazon just hit me with the worst tech support ever

You'd expect better than a sub-Prime support experience from the presumed leader in home automation and Internet of Things.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Video: Amazon Echo Dot is the smartest no-brainer ever

I consider myself an Amazon addict and I feel no shame in admitting this.

My wife and I spend a lot of money with Amazon. We have their credit card, we are Prime members, and we do our online shopping with Amazon almost exclusively. Our garage has so many empty Amazon shipping boxes in it that we have to purge our supply every few weeks or find novel uses for them.

We are also users of all of Amazon's technology products. We use all of their apps on multiple platforms, we have multiple generations of Kindle and Kindle Fire, we have a Fire TV stick, and we have been users of Amazon Echo since its inception.

We now own two Echo units (the original Echo and the Echo Dot), and we just got the Dash Wand yesterday. So we use Alexa a ton, as well.

Our Echos are connected to our Nest and Ecobee thermostats, our Haiku Fans, our Wemo devices, Philips Hue lights, and a few Bluetooth speakers. And these are far from the only IP-connected, IoT-type devices in our home. We probably have 70+ devices hooked up to our home network at any time.

Because I work in the technology field, and I have to do business from home, I have architected my home network using high-end, enterprise-class components.

Given that I have so many devices connected, we have MU-MIMO-capable 802.11ac access points in every major room, which are home run via Cat-6 cables to an enterprise-class switch, so we have continuous coverage, on multiple channels and bands.

The IoT devices use a dedicated 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi network so they don't have to compete with the more bandwidth-heavy devices which are using 5Ghz networks. We also have a gigabit broadband connection to the internet going out.

Suffice it to say, I know what I am doing, and I know my technology is working. My bottlenecks are minimal or non-existent from my use-case perspective.

Now, I realize that IoT is a fairly new field and that devices can and will glitch or even die. It happens to the best and the worst of manufacturers. You're dealing with embedded systems with low-power components and SoCs that are manufactured in ridiculous volumes and low costs -- and, as such, stuff happens.

With a device like the Echo, which heavily leverages the cloud for everything it does, you are at the mercy of that cloud service's availability -- as well as your ISP's capacity.

So, yeah, I expect IoT devices to glitch. Even die.

And when that happens, I expect to be able to call customer support to help me successfully diagnose the problem or work out how to replace the device satisfactorily.

However, when you are an Amazon -- and you are leveraging a huge reputation for customer loyalty and service, and you're trying to be the leader in IoT and consumer cloud -- that support experience must be pristine. It must be exemplary.


How close does an Echo Dot need to be to a WiFi access point? According to Amazon tech support, this close.

Image: ZDNet

I did not get an exemplary support experience from Amazon's after hours Echo support line last night. Instead, I received some of the worst support I have ever experienced, from a technology company, ever.

This flies in the face of the support experience I have had when talking to Amazon tech and customer support for their other lines of business. For their retail website and Kindle, I have had fantastic service. They are always willing to go the extra mile to please and resolve the situation.

I don't recall a single time I've walked away from them unhappy on the phone or over email.

It hasn't mattered whether I am talking to someone in Kirkland or Seattle or offshore where English is their second or third language. And it shouldn't.

I recognize the need for having offshore talent work call centers, especially after hours. But if you are going to use those folks, their English had better be decent and should be empowered to make decisions in favor of the customer, especially if you are an Amazon. And you want to get people off the phone quickly.

Over the last few weeks, my Echo Dot has been acting strangely. It frequently loses connection to the internet, and I've had to reboot it a few times a day.

Yesterday evening, after rebooting it, it went crazy. It started saying it lost its internet connection, nonstop, for about five minutes.

I figured the device malfunctioned and needed replacement, because my other Echo, the original one, has been working flawlessly.

So, I called the dedicated Echo support number. I wasn't sure who I was routed to, but it was 11 pm EST (8 pm PST).

I got a young woman with an extremely meager command of English. I could forgive the language obstacle, had this person not been so incredibly rude and had we not been on the phone for so long.

First, it took about 10 minutes for me to verify my identity with her because she couldn't understand what I was saying and the name on the account isn't just "Jason Perlow." That was frustrating enough.

She kept yelling at me to poke around in the Amazon website and get the proper name on the account, which I kept repeating, but she still didn't want to proceed until it fulfilled her requirements.

When we finally got over that hoop, I explained the connectivity situation. She asked that I reboot the device.

I explained that the Echo Dot was in the same room as an access point, my living room, and that it was about 10 or 12 feet away from it.

She then proceeded to tell me that it was too far away to make a wireless connection and that my access point must have a bad signal. That I should place it directly next to the access point or router for best experience.

Um, no.

Look, I don't care which IoT device manufacturer you are or if the device has a simple 1x1 low-power 2.4Ghz-only transceiver manufactured in millions in the suburbs of Shenzen or Kuala Lumpur.

If it only functions when sitting right next to the access point, you've failed on the basic premise of delivering an IoT device. You might as well hard wire the thing to your Ethernet switch.

I explained to the tech support representative that I never in my life have seen a Wi-Fi device that can't communicate over 10-foot distances (let alone 30- or 50- or 100-foot distances). I don't care if it's running on legacy 802.11g, 802.11n, or 5Ghz 802.11ac. That's basic connectivity that you expect from Wi-Fi.

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She repeated that for best experience with the Echo Dot, it needs to be next to the wireless router.

I told her that was unbelievable. Amazon would never design a device like that, and if that's the recommendation, then all the Dots have to be working outside of specifications; that they are all badly engineered junk, and that I want to return it for a product that works.

I asked to speak to her manager. She left me on hold, I heard a few beeps, indicating the VOIP call was being routed, and I got a man whose command of the language was better, but not by much.

I explained to him that the level of service I received from the previous support representative was unacceptable, and her explanation for why the device wasn't working properly was also unacceptable.

I told him I wanted to return the device and get something else with the credit, such as a reconditioned Amazon Echo, which I know works fine and is currently going for $134. I'd even be willing to try out the Tap, which is $129.

Not only do I have a lot of credit from recently traded-in merchandise (such as my 2015 iPad Pro that I sent in for $400 a few weeks ago), but a customer service rep, let alone a manager, could probably see the recent order history in the thousands of dollars. If they can't, that's stupid.

He wasn't willing to give me a reconditioned or new Echo or Tap for the price difference. This is disappointing, stupid and short-sighted on Amazon's part, considering I'd be using store credit and a little good will goes a long way with the sheer volume of purchases I make with them on a monthly let alone yearly basis.

He was willing to send me another Echo Dot. I relented. I just wanted to get off the phone with this guy.

To my readers, I'd first recommend that if you are considering an Alexa device, that you don't get a Dot, especially if Amazon's recommendation on wireless proximity for that device is true.

I would also question any further Echo purchases and look at competing products. I'm now looking at Google Home and Apple HomePod. That can't be Amazon's desired outcome.

And to Amazon? All I can say is that you are in huge danger of sabotaging your relationship with loyal customers if you cannot provide exemplary service and you fail to provide the leadership that is required of a company presuming to be entirely customer-focused.

Is Amazon screwing up big time on customer support? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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