3 reasons why Amazon’s amazing Mayday help feature could flop

October 1, 2013

Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX tablets have great hardware specs, but the ecommerce giant also wowed with something completely unexpected, Mayday, a special help button users can press to get live technical assistance in an onscreen video window 24 x 7.

Amazon is also promising users will be able to connect with a live human technician within 15 seconds. Wow.

(CORRECTION: What Amazon actually says is that Mayday has a "15 seconds or less response time goal" – no promises).

Even many in the jaded tech media were impressed and if Amazon can really pull this off count me in too even if the Mayday feature is completely worthless if say your problem is the Kindle Fire won't turn on.

The new Kindle Fire HDX tablets aren’t available yet (October 25 for the 7-inch version, November 7 for the 8.9-inch model). So we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, here are three things to watch for that I think could muddle this ambitious effort. 

Will Mayday scale?

The biggest question in my mind relates to the thing Amazon probably does as well or better than any other company on the planet – scale.

It’s one thing to create the right algorithms to balance server loads so compute resources are always available to Amazon’s cloud computing customers. But how do you reliably estimate what it will take to make help technicians available in a 15-second window given the vagaries of how long each help session will take? 

Sure the Comcasts of the world do make those calculations, but what is the more typical experience users have, getting right through to the help line, or being put on hold for tens of minutes at best? 

Analyst Roger Kay says the better comparison would be to online chat support lines which in his experience (and mine) work pretty efficiently.

Still, none of the chat help systems that I’ve seen promise a response in 15 seconds. (UPDATE: Again, I should correct that Amazon ever promised a response time, they haven't, it's just a goal. On the other hand, unlike other tech support systems, Amazon is encouraging users to press Mayday if all they want is help understanding how to use a feature. Given the variables of how long these requests could take, it'll be interesting to see if Mayday support staff are consistently available as quickly as Amazon hopes).

Now some do respond right away with “Please hold for a minute.” 

If that’s what happens with MayDay and actually getting help takes more like the 5-15+ minutes we’re used to, well maybe no one’s going to scream "I wish I bought a Nexus 7" but it won't be delivering on Jeff Bezos’ lofty promise goal. And it's going to be especially important Amazon come through for the new wave of business and professional users it's trying to attract.

Can you hear me now?

Road warriors know that WiFi connections can be flaky. 

There's no reason to think Murphy's Law will not be firmly place when you’re on the road desperately in need of help and that connection to the Amazon technician keeps breaking up until it finally dies altogether. 

Perhaps these instances will be rare, but they're bound to happen.

Amazon technicians aren't up to the job

Unlike more established device vendors, Amazon doesn’t have a slew of different tablets to support and I think it's doing the right thing by limiting the Mayday feature, for now, to a specific model, the Kindle HDX.

So the job of the support person is relatively straightforward – understand how the Kindle Fire HDX works and be familiar with (or know how to quickly reference) at least the most common questions, if not the more complicated issues.

There's no way to know for sure how many new HDX buyers will have problems with the device, or rely excessively on it for help with how to use some of the features or whether the typical Amazon rep will be sufficiently trained to respond. Amazon would be dumb not to have done a good job training the support staff, and Amazon's not dumb. But we'll see.

Even a CEO can do it

Whatever happens, I give Amazon credit for attempting to raise the bar when it comes to support. 

A great publicity stunt for Amazon would be for CEO Bezos to take over the help line for a few video Mayday chat sessions and see how it goes.

And if they could capture it (with permission of the consumer) what a great promotional video for Amazon that would be.

Assuming Bezos doesn't have to kick the problem higher up to someone more technical.


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