Using cakes for social engineering

For the past few years we’ve had some accounting difficulties with one of our customers: Amazon. I have no idea how their accounting and vendor systems work, but apparently we ended up in their system 4 different ways. And payment methods were horribly confused — it was a mess all around.

Invoice #144, for our Live Data Feed service that Amazon subscribes to, has been outstanding for almost three years now (it will be 3 years in January, but I wanted to get this money to come in in 2013). To be honest, there could be some confusion on our or on Amazon’s part — in fact the invoice may not be outstanding anymore. The fact of the matter is that we can’t seem to figure out what exactly is going on, but no money is flowing from Amazon to us and we’re owed somewhere around $20,000. (Which is near 10% of our annual budget incidentally)

For the last 6 months I’ve stepped up my pestering to get this resolved. I’ve been assured progress for the past 6 months, but nothing has happened. Promises of progress, then nothing. Again and again. I finally had an idea how to make change happen: Send Amazon an anniversary cake and post a picture of it publicly!

I even told my Amazon contacts about this idea, but it didn’t really catalyze anything. Then I finally set a deadline of Dec 2nd. The deadline came and went with more unfulfilled promises, so on December 2nd I picked up the phone and ordered a cake. Larsen’s Danish Bakery in Seattle were quite lovely to work with and created this cake for us:

Invoice #144 cake

A friend of mine went to the bakery, snapped this picture and then delivered the cake to Amazon HQ. It was accepted at the reception with promises that it would be delivered to its recipient. Then we started tweeting and Cory posted an entry to BoingBoing “Charity sends Amazon a cake celebrating 3d anniversary of unpaid invoice“.

For almost 24 hours nothing happened, but then I got email from my contact at Amazon telling me that the Accounts Payable team found a problem that was blocking payments from being sent to us, that the problem was now fixed and that they were investigating means to prevent this from happening again.

My contact goes on to say that a check will be cut tomorrow an overnighted to us. And that I should expect one more email telling me who on Amazon will be managing our relationship going forward. And, I have a voicemail pending from a person at Amazon’s accounts payable team to finally resolve the matter of the 3 year old invoice.

Sending this cake was quite effective! For $30 I managed to wake up Amazon, send a clear message that our account was not being managed well, that their AP team has some issues to address and that I wanted to fix our relationship. From where I stand, I see that these issues are on track for being resolved. Thanks for stepping up your game, Amazon!

Finally, I would like to say that all the people I’ve dealt with at Amazon have been polite and were honestly trying to help me. The real reason, from what I can tell, is that Amazon employees are constantly overworked and that MetaBrainz is such a small organization that its hard for them to really find the time to manage this relationship.

I’m glad that Amazon didn’t just cancel their contract with us and I’m looking forward to an improved working relationship going forward.

8 thoughts on “Using cakes for social engineering”

  1. This likely isn’t the message you’re trying to send, but if I rack up a bill with you, would you buy me a “reminder cake” too?

  2. You forgot to mention that you should be grateful to live near Larsen’s. I bring their stuff back to Palo Alto when I go.

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