Amazon prepares for the zombie apocalypse

Amazon.com is revered for being a very forward-looking business.  So, with the inclusion of a “zombie apocalypse” clause in their latest Terms of Service, should we all be worried?

Yes, it’s right there in paragraph 57.10 for the company’s Lumberyard games development engine, a 3D game design program for use with Amazon Web Services (AWS):

In this paragraph, Amazon notes that the program is not intended for use with “life-critical or safety-critical systems,” except if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declare the presence of a “widespread viral infection transmitted by bites or contact with bodily fluids that cause human corpses to reanimate and seek to consume living human flesh, blood, brain, or nerve tissue and is likely to result in the fall of organized civilization.”

Zombie-Apocalypse-480x300Translation:  If the Zombie Apocalypse comes to pass, you can use Lumberyard for whatever the heck you want.

Alright, so Amazon is injecting some humor in what are typically long, boring and dense Terms of Service that, let’s face it, none of us ever read – for any company.

But the fact that the flesh-eating undead can be referenced in a document like this, without hardly anyone noticing, speaks to a larger and more serious issue:  Disclosure documents like this are an awful way to communicate important information to your customer.

Companies bury important details in opaque disclosures that they count on no one reading.  Examples abound – coverage exclusions for your insurance, service fees for your bank account, cancellation fees for your gym membership, price hikes for your cable TV package, or conflicts of interest for your financial advisor.

Organizations hide behind these disclosure documents, and point to them as evidence that anything important is indeed revealed to the customer.

But here’s the key thing these companies are missing:  Disclosure is not a proxy for transparency.  Indeed, as practiced these days (with pages of unintelligible fine print), disclosure is the antithesis of transparency.

So let’s start referring to disclosure documents for what they really are – a tool businesses use to convey information they don’t want anyone to see.

Until more companies reject such disingenuous practices (like Southwest Airlines has done with its Transfarency strategy), consumer trust in businesses will continue to erode.

Want to strengthen your customer relationships?  Then go beyond the legally required disclosures and start communicating with people in a clear and forthright way.

That sends a signal to customers that you’re advocating for them, helping them avoid unpleasant surprises — be it in the form of excessive fees, conflicts of interest, or the zombie-induced fall of organized civilization.

That’s the kind of advocacy from which loyal brand advocates are born.

Jon Picoult

Founder & Principal at Watermark Consulting
Jon Picoult is Founder & Principal of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress their customers and inspire their employees.  As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has advised thousands of business leaders across some of the world’s foremost brands.

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