Jeff Bezos wants consumers to get excited about tech support.
Not the old-fashioned kind, where frustrated tech users dial a toll-free number only to navigate through a touch-tone maze that leads to interminable wait times while they seethe some more.
No, what the Amazon.com CEO is revved up about is a new feature on the latest batch of Kindle Fire tablets called the Mayday button. It may well be the marquee feature in the latest version of the online retail giant’s tablet computers, unveiled Wednesday.
The new devices are lighter and the screens are brighter. The processors are faster, and the battery life has been extended yet again, as it was last year with the second iteration of the Kindle Fire.
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But Bezos, in an interview with The Seattle Times occasioned by the debut of the new Kindle Fires, is most animated about the Mayday button.
Customers who can’t figure out how to set up an email account on the device, or ones looking for a recommendation for a game to buy, can tap the button and get on-demand, on-device tech support in a postage stamp-sized video window that pops up on the new tablets. There, a live tech-support representative will walk customers through fixing whatever digital snafu they encounter.
“It will be ready for Christmas Day when thousands and thousands of people unwrap Kindle Fires and want to use this new feature,” Bezos said. “And nobody’s ever done anything like this for tech support before.”
In the interview with The Times, Bezos enthused about the new Kindle Fires, which will be available for holiday shopping, and several new features the company has baked into them.
Here’s an edited version of that conversation:
Q: Amazon has been able to collect all sorts of data about the way consumers use their Kindles — the way they read books, the media they consume and whatnot. What has the company learned over the past two years that has shaped the way this device has been made?
Bezos: Probably the biggest thing is the Mayday button. We get so many tech-support calls asking how do I do this, how do I do that. And the Mayday button is going to make that so much easier for people.
Q: You’ve said if customers call Amazon, then that’s a problem with Amazon’s service. Is this an acknowledgment that customers are going to call you?
Bezos: In e-commerce, in most cases, if people are calling us, it’s because of some kind of defect. “Where’s my shipment? You promised me delivery on Tuesday. It’s Tuesday.”
We have very successfully, for 18 years, driven down our defect rates. When you are talking about that kind of customer service, I think that’s correct.
When you are talking about tech support, some of it is irreducibly difficult. If you want to set up a VPN [virtual private network] service so you can get access to your corporate intranet, to some degree, that’s not going to be easy for a lot of people to do. There are some activities, especially when you get to configurations and settings and so on, that are irreducibly difficult. And that’s where tech support can be very, very useful.
People have all kinds of workarounds for that today. They find a friend. They have a 13-year-old. Or a very common way of working around that is they get their device good enough and they don’t mess with it because they are afraid. “I can destabilize my device. It will never work again.” That’s what Mayday is all about.
Q: Do you have expectations internally about how often you expect it to be used?
Bezos: I expect it to be used quite frequently, especially in the beginning. I think people are going to use it just to show it off to their friends. People are going to call just to say hi.
All of which is OK with us. This is a “wow” feature and we want people to use it.
Q: Are you going to have to hire new people to staff this up?
Bezos: We’ll have time to do that before the holidays if we need to. We have a large number of tech-support people and Kindle-support people already. Many thousands. We’ll have to wait and see.
The starting point will be to train all of our existing people on how to do Mayday.
Q: Analysts often compare Kindle sales against sales of the iPad and the Nexus tablets. I don’t get the sense that’s the way you look at this business.
Bezos: We’re very focused on trying to build products that customers love. And then customers get to choose.
Q: What defines success for you when it comes to Kindle sales? Is there a metric that you use?
Bezos: It’s not a direct answer to the sales question, but what defines success for us is we like it when a customer says, “Wow.” When people feel this device [the Kindle HDX 8.9], and they feel how light this device is, they are going to say “Wow.” And also how fast it is.
When people see this [the new Origami case for the Kindle Fires] and the integration with the camera, they are going to say, “Wow.”
And when they use Mayday for the first time, when they actually get stuck and they actually need help, they are going to say, “Big wow.”
Q: But “Wow” isn’t a measurable metric.
Bezos: That’s true. It might be measurable to a degree. But that is what we’re seeking. And I take as an article of faith that if you can get customers to say, “Wow,” that helps sales.
Q: Can you tell me how many Kindles you have sold?
Bezos: Not beyond many, many millions. Many, many millions of Kindle Fires, and many, many millions of Kindle readers as well.
Q: There’s often been speculation about Amazon coming up with other devices (such as smartphones and set-top boxes) beyond the Kindle. Why isn’t Amazon making other devices yet?
Bezos: I wouldn’t want to speculate on our future road map. I probably just can’t answer that.
Q: Maybe a better way to ask is what are the circumstances that might lead Amazon to make other devices?
Bezos: One thing to remember is, we’ve only been in the tablet business for 24 months. The right answer to your question is we’ll just have to wait and see.
Q: The benefit of it, of course, is you can own that environment and the way customers interact with your services. Is that something that could be important in other areas such as a TV set-top boxes, for example?
Bezos: Again, I just don’t want to speculate on that.
Jay Greene: 206-464-2231 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: iamjaygreene