7 Customer Service Lessons from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos


The latest results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals Amazon.com as the reigning and undisputed champ in both Internet retailing and across the entire department in overall customer satisfaction. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos perhaps more than any business leader has taken the philosophy of truly caring for the customer and ushered it into the digital era. Bezos has built a company from the ground up purely based off of the unbending, unyielding philosophy of serving the customer across all departments. With a 164 million Amazon customers, few would argue Bezos as the key architect of building an authentic, customer-centric company.

1. Don’t Just Listen to Your Customers, Understand Them

“Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”

As part of a training session each year, Jeff Bezos asks thousands of Amazon managers, including himself, to ­attend two days of call-center training. Most likely this was a doctrine borrowed from the U.S. Marines as all marines, regardless of rank, are trained to be a rifleman first. Nonetheless, the incentive here is for managers to immediately be placed in the mindset that Amazon’s philosophy is about listening, and most importantly, understanding the customer. It’s easy to listen to customers. However the first step of every employee must be to understand them and their needs in order to successfully better the organization.

2. Serve the Needs of the Customer

“We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.”

The Kindle tablet came into existence purely defined by customers’ desires rather than engineers’ preferences and personal preferences. What was remarkable was that Bezos hardly faltered in creating a product built for the customer even after it took years to construct the right hardware. One finance executive in particular learned quickly of his philosophy when he asked Bezos how much he was prepared to spend on the Kindle project, where the CEO quickly replied: “How much do we have?”

Business leaders must never stray from the overall fact that the customer pays the wages at your company (an old Henry Ford quote) determine what they need and work to serve them. During the next evaluation of a product or service team, stop thinking about how you can make the product or organization better and start thinking about how you can make your customers more successful.


3. The Empty Chair: The Most Important Person in the Room

“Focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient.” 

Even during the fledgling days of Amazon, Bezos worked hard to establish the philosophy of a company that obsesses over their customers from top to bottom. An overwhelming figure that used to always set the tone of his meetings was “the empty chair.” Early on, Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings and informed his top executives that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.” Throughout these meetings, a different weight was held on all decisions as the invisible but clear presence of the customer was always accounted for.

4. Never Settle for 99%

“We’re not satisfied until it’s 100%.”

In the December of 2011, Jeff Bezos was “very proud” that Amazon was able to hit the unfathomable goal of delivering his promise to get packages to 99.9% of his customers before Christmas. No small feat transporting millions of packages worldwide and missing their mark on a handful of deliveries in just a few, short nights. To Bezos, though, there is still room for improvement as he stated: “We’re not satisfied until it’s 100%.”

As your customer service team continues aiming to hit response time goals to customers and improve satisfaction ratings never settle for 99% – always shoot for 100. In today’s age, customers are talking to one another and are referring companies that provide a more satisfactory customer experience. And they’re paying more to ensure this (just look at Amazon).

5. Respect Today’s Customer

“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”

 As one of the original ecommerce pioneers, there can be little argument that Bezos firmly understands the authority of today’s customer. Today’s customer is listening to peers, researching heavily online and posting complaints on social media – changing everything business owners thought they knew about customer relationships.

Put in the work and research so that you fully understand your customer base and never take them for granted. Respected brands have fallen high from their perches due to poorly mishandled situations in dealing with an unhappy customer. Make sure to have a clear and concise plan with how you deal with bad reviews or complaints from customers (it’s going to happen). Above all else, no matter how frustrated you may be with a customer who takes a complaint to the Internet, never fail to respond and always say thank you.

6. Strive to Create a Customer-Centric Company

“If we can arrange things in such a way that our interests are aligned with our customers, then in the long term that will work out really well for customers and it will work out really well for Amazon.”

One important curiosity that remains is that of all of the great customer service that Amazon provides, it still doesn’t explain why they’re making billions of dollars in sales each quarter. Similar organizations like Costco and Target demonstrate their world-class customer service as well—yet their combined market capitalization trails Amazon’s by $98 billion.

The secret sauce to Amazon’s success was Bezo’s ability to create a customer-centric company. All of his departments throughout Amazon are completely data-driven based upon the success and failures of the customer experience. It allows him to take risks to innovate and make difficult decisions because he has the concrete evidence to decide what is best for the customer and ultimately, what is best for the company. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Bezos said of his customer-centric company: “We don’t focus on the optics of the next quarter; we focus on what is going to be good for customers. I think this aspect of our culture is rare.”

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Apologize

 “We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”

Over the past nearly two decades, Amazon has held a steady pace of positive press due to their industry-altering company and great customer service. However back in 2009, the foundations of the online book mogul were shook when they remotely deleted copies of the books “1984” and “Animal Farm” from users’ Kindles. The incident prompted an outcry of Internet users to see the dark, “Big Brother” side of Amazon – one that Bezos had worked hard to steer clear of. Amazon quickly made an apology with the usual dry and inhuman statement from the press team. But what really turned people back towards Amazon, was an informal and heartfelt apology from Jeff Bezos:

Jeff-Bezos-Apology

The lesson that can be learned here is that the problem was quickly forgotten and even met with praise for Jeff’s ability to take responsibility for his mistake. Take a look at some of the replies from customers:

Amazon-customer-comments

Apologizing is embarrassing and frustrating – it’s an open surrender that you screwed up once out of the thousands of positive contributions you have made to your customers. However, a solid, heartfelt apology is true representation that your organization cares about the needs of the customer. That itself speaks louder than any multi-million dollar advertising message.

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Upon reading this post, I am not expecting you to come down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. There is no immediate action that needs to be taken from these lessons. Merely the ability to look at your business and its customer service in a different light. How do you view your customers now? Take this as an opportunity to learn from a man who has fully grasped what it means to build a customer-centric company.