- Chris McCabe
- On September 14, 2015
“He urged any employees who knew of “stories like those reported to contact him directly.”
In response to the recent New York Times article about the workplace culture at Amazon, Jeff Bezos implored any internal employees unhappy with their employer to email him directly. I knew that few people would risk retribution by sending such complaints to the top, but it did make me wonder.
My inbox filled up with questions from just about everyone I know, asking for the most part, “Is it really like this? Will anybody contact him?” As I read their emails I was thinking something a bit different: “Will all of the merchants emailing Jeff to appeal account restrictions outside of the usual backlogged email channels face longer response times if employees do contact him?”
Some of the employee experiences were similar to stories I had heard while working at Amazon, but since leaving my perspective focuses more on the seller experience. It also brings up an important question: What is the current process for handling ‘Jeff B’ complaints from sellers, notwithstanding his recent calls for emails from employees? He only has so many assistants to cover the various email inboxes and many of those emails relate to sellers who could not have their appeals heard by Seller Performance or Merchant Risk teams. After books and articles published in recent years covered Jeff’s personal interest in customer responsiveness, the public knows him to review at least some of these merchant emails as they come in. He picks certain ones to add only a “?” to before delegating to his team, and to the teams responsible for the account action beyond that. What Amazon team is driving the rise in suspensions for the most part?
Amazon Product Quality, and Current Methods of Policy Enforcement
Throughout 2015, I have assisted sellers with account suspensions primarily executed by teams responsible for policy enforcement. In recent weeks and months, the Product Quality team has greatly expanded the number of sellers to investigate for potential account restrictions. Most if not all of these investigations originate from buyer complaints that resulted in automated warnings, which lead to manual account reviews. A certain percentage of manual investigations of seller accounts inevitably result in account suspensions lest the audit trail on investigations reveal a tendency for inaction. Naturally, the next impulse for anyone dependent upon Amazon sales is to hit that “Appeal” button immediately in an effort to get reinstated as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, many sellers write impassioned pleas to recover access while offering unspecific changes that they will make, or they focus too narrowly on individual ASINs or problem buyer feedbacks and comments. If this first “Plan of Action” fails and a denial is sent, sellers must re-appeal or write a revised Plan of Action to be reconsidered. If a seller receives no response or a response unrelated to their situation, there are few additional places to escalate known to the greater selling public. If a seller receives the dreaded phrase “further correspondence may not be answered,” then they know they have only one place to go: Jeff.
Bezos Escalations: Then
During my time working merchant risk investigations at Amazon, I handled my fair share of Bezos escalations. Once assigned one, all of my other queue work ceased until completion of this fresh, “back to square one” look at the seller’s account. Several people, both managers on my team and above, had to be included on the correspondence sent to the appealing seller. I completed thorough and comprehensive investigations, leaving no stone upturned and examining as many individual orders, buyer feedback, claims, and emailed comments that I could before determining my course of action. I generally had enough time to conduct detailed investigations and always had the oversight of my lead among others to review the fairness of my work. Responses went out the same day, and within the same hour or two if possible outside of exceptional circumstances. Either way, the seller knew that they had been heard and the decision sent reflected in-depth research and review.
Bezos Escalations: Now
These days, many more people are aware of the Jeff email addresses. Some sellers write directly to Jeff when they lose their accounts, even before contacting the policy team that suspended them. I would consider those hasty moves, as understandable as it might be you want to write someone high up right away. Aside from those cases, sellers who do take sufficient time to draft up a proper Plan of Action are finding themselves waiting days or weeks for an answer. In the meantime, they experience lost revenue each day they must wait. When the reply comes one or two weeks later, it may ask for new information, or it may ask for the same exact information requested in previous messaging. By then, many sellers have already written to Jeff for additional review or appeal. They may not have understood the reasons for the suspension in the first place after receiving only automated warn messages about “potential buyer complaints” up until that point or vague claims of “inauthentic” products.
Added to this, they appeal with a plan (which may or not may not deserve reinstatement) that may not be replied to for days, or weeks, if at all. I have had several clients complain to me of a complete lack of any reply. Some see token replies clearly indicating that the Plan of Action was not considered, or an unrelated, generic reply is sent in order for Amazon to mark their email as “answered.”
Bezos Escalations and You
Typically these are the sellers nowadays who then email appeals directly to Jeff hoping that they will generate a new look at their account. I formerly advised all of my clients to employ this tactic as only as a last ditch attempt to be heard once they exhausted all other appeals. Now, given the current delays on policy team replies to appeals, I understand the unavoidable need to write to Jeff sooner rather than later. Additionally, it may help clarify the confusing situation I have seen in recent months where sellers receive automated reinstatement if their account is not reviewed before the end of the suspension. They read messages like “Thank you for agreeing to follow our policies regarding product condition and descriptions. We have reinstated your selling privileges” but that decision may soon be reversed. Then the seller is back to square one, re-suspended, and submitting another Plan of Action perhaps without any additional messaging about what was missing from the first one.
What To Do?
Clients ask me almost daily if they should appeal their account suspension to Jeff Bezos, either to protest a wrongful suspension or to complain about mistreatment by Seller Performance. I still recommend against this unless there is no other option available because your Plan of Action is languishing in a dead zone of non-response. If you must write to Jeff, make sure you have analyzed everything that might have gone wrong with your account on your own end. Don’t waste time and space on process complaints or disputing individual warnings, focus instead on the goal in front of you: convincing the investigator reviewing your account that you have identified and already resolved any potential shortcomings. Specify “root causes” of the problems that led to suspension, and present a clear action plan to spell out how you have addressed each one. Jeff’s team will delegate the matter to the relevant people. Take care with your writing and presentation of this document, as it may represent your last and best chance of recovering the account for future sales.