Learning from the Amazon gift card snafu

Millions of people got this email last night:

It’s legitimate, but it’s a mistake. A mistake because:

  • the subject line is wrong (you didn’t buy a gift card yesterday)
  • it was sent Saturday night at 8 pm
  • the formatting is off and it feels like a scam

We can learn a lot about what not to do from this.

First, if you make a mistake by email, fix it. Fix it by email AND fix it on your site. Let everyone who got the wrong note know, even if it’s embarrassing.

Second, if your company is built on email, establish a consistent look and feel, an approval process and most of all, definitely, a way to confirm that you actually sent it. For example, if you ever get an email from me, it will also be here on this blog. If it’s not, it’s a scam.

Now that Amazon has bolloxed up both parts of this process (they got thousands and thousands of complaints last night, overwhelming their hard-working frontline support workers) they’ve opened the door for countless spammers and scammers who lack imagination but are good at following a trail.

While it may seem unrelated, part of the problem is the fear that people have in writing clearly. Here’s a sign I saw at Avis yesterday:

I’m pretty sure that the person who cared enough to make this sign doesn’t actually speak this way. Perhaps if it had said,

“We don’t have a car wash here, but the insides of our cars have been cleaned regularly. If you’d like to get a car wash, we’re delighted to pay you back up to $15 per rental. Thanks for understanding.”

The Amazon email was simultaneously overwritten and under-edited. I didn’t say what it meant, and the formatting simply made it worse.

And then the bureaucracy refused to quickly take responsibility and make it clear to millions of people.

As a result of error and fog and denial, trust disappears.

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