Amazon’s Customer Experience Just Made Your Life More Difficult

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Jeff Bezos’ letter to Amazon’s shareholders has a paragraph that should have every customer experience professional on high alert:

‘We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers. One industry observer recently received an automated email from us that said, “We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental on Amazon Video On Demand: Casablanca. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount: $2.99. We hope to see you again soon.”‘

The interpretations I’ve seen of this so far, including an excellent post by Bruce Temkin, have focused on gleaning insight into what makes a customer-centric company tick. This is a helpful take, but it falls short of what this really represents in the coming years: induced high expectations for great customer experiences among consumers.

Amazon has a history of making grand leaps in innovation that become industry standards:

  • Digital books sold for years at $9.99 – and paper books at steep discounts – because Amazon said so. Those are the prices everybody in the market is now compared against. (You don’t need to look further than the legal case currently facing Apple’s iBookstore to see the risks even powerful players had in trying to adjust that.)
  • Amazon’s fulfillment centers have made people come to expect their orders to be processed and at their door with exceptional efficiency and precise timing. Even the smallest online retailers are now compared to this benchmark in the consumer’s eye, and Amazon Prime will only increase the difficulty in meeting their high standards.
  • After using Amazon 1-Click, every other payment system a customer experiences seems clunky and over-built. All online retailers were left to play catch-up or else risk appearing primitive compared to consumer expectations.

I could go on…

When reading the above paragraph from Bezos’ letter, every customer experience professional shouldn’t just see the capabilities mentioned as a nice to have – they should recognize that within a few short years, they are what consumers will expect. Business of all sizes will need to learn to deliver a customer experience that fixes problems as they happen, or risk falling far behind the curve of consumer expectations.

More generally, however, what this represents is a greater trend toward making big businesses feel corner-store small. When you purchase camera equipment from a local camera shop, the owners get to know you – they know your past purchases, find out how you use your camera, and can make recommendations accordingly. They’re able to diagnose any problems you have quickly and address them with you on the spot. The downside, however, is that this approach does not scale well, and these highly-knowledgable people spend much of their time answering questions that could be better handled by less qualified service staff. Charting a company’s ability to serve its customers against its size, corner stores may fall as follows:

An image showing the customer service capabilities of small businesses.

While a large company with many products and global reach may be placed as shown here:

Enterprises struggle to deliver a personalized, scalable customer experience at low cost.

What real-time big-data analytics is allowing large companies to do, however, is make a dramatic upward shift, with Amazon leading the charge:

Real-time big data analytics make it possible for large companies to deliver personalized experiences that in a short time will exceed even small businesses.

With these capabilities and the coming innovations in this field, large companies will be able to match capability-for-capability all things that used to be solely the domain of small business. Not only will they be able to understand what you’ve purchased before and why – just like your favourite employee at your local shop – they’ll understand how you’ve been using these products, and be able to proactively help you just as you begin to have issues with those products. Furthermore, they’ll be able to connect you to exactly the right person to fix that problem with little guesswork, and adjust depending on the severity of your problem. An exceptionally designed approach could even consistently connect you to you favourite reps to handle your issues, providing the corner-store feel often lacking when dealing with large companies.

I suspect that the pace of innovation being driven by companies like Amazon will lead to dramatically increasing expectations from customers as to the quality and speed of customer service. Within a short couple of years, consumers will expect better and more individualized customer service from large companies than they do small:

Over time, customers will come to expect a customer experience delivered by large companies to exceed even that or small businesses.

Among customer experience consultancies, efforts must be made to partner with technology providers to deliver on the experiences that consumers will come to expect, in a way that is custom tailored to individual brands. As outlined by Kerry Bodine in an HBR blog recently, many of these organizations falsely claim to be innovating already – and while copycating competitors and best practices may not be true innovations – matching the proprietary technology and capabilities developed by companies that are defining the customer experience industry may be a great place to start.

Ryan Brideau
Ryan Brideau is a Vice-President of UserEvents, Inc., a company dedicated to unlocking the business value in big data. UserEvents' first product, CxEngage, allows enterprises to consistently deliver great customer experiences by letting them monitor and act on their customers' journeys in real-time.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Last paragraph, *partNer *copycatting.
    Great article though, love the insight and the thought behind this. Amazon is definitely innovating and love to see other big companies looking to follow in the CX charge.

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