Strikes affect Amazon Prime Day

Ian Hawkins

What do you do when the computer stops working? Once you’ve switched it off and on again and sent through a request to IT, your next stop is probably to put the kettle on. But not all process glitches are so easily solved - especially when they are human-shaped.  

Amazon’s ‘Prime Day’ got off to an inauspicious start when their website crashed on launch, and the site was inaccessible for about 45 minutes.  

When the computers don’t work for the digital transformation giant that is Amazon, it’s a problem. But arguably not their biggest problem this week.  

Thousands of Amazon workers in Spain and Germany chose Prime Day to strike, calling for better working conditions, pay and benefits. 

The workers themselves probably feel they have little choice in how to hurt their employers, but at what cost? Customers want convenience, and although the disruption will affect deliveries, will it be enough to put people off Amazon long term? Maybe – but perhaps not. The strike action is a gamble, as it risks undermining the relationship with the customer that keeps the business viable in the first place.

How workers make their displeasure known to their bosses without damaging the relationship with the customer is a big question. Customers are increasingly taking to social media to complain about bad service; reputational damage is hard to contain, impossible to outrun, and an ongoing concern for CEOs.

The old way of strikes – downing tools and walking off the job – is a last resort, but there may be more creative approaches to the problem of employee relations that don’t negatively impact the customer.   

In Japan and Australia, dissatisfied bus drivers staged days of free travel, refusing to take payment for journeys. Result? Happy customers, furious bosses, and a PR victory for the workers. 

The customer no longer necessarily sees the worker as part of the company they are working for, and customers are willing to punish a company of they don’t think it is behaving fairly to its own people. Customer–led action has already changed the way clothing is made, following a series of high-profile tragedies in sweatshops, and general publicity shaming companies that profit from sweatshop labour

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the customer, the best intentions of businesses are cushioned by the behaviour of the people on the front line who interact with customers day by day. If your Process Excellence isn’t taking into account the experience of the staff member, you may find that when it comes to customer affection for your brand, that human worker makes all the difference.