Amazon published Jeff Bezos’s written statement to Congress prior to him defending his company’s business practices to lawmakers, alongside the CEOs of Google, Apple and Facebook. While we already knew that Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, is customer-obsessed and attributes Amazon’s success to its customer-centricity, it’s interesting to see the extent to which CX remains the top priority for Bezos and Amazon.
His statement concretely spells out how empathy, emotional intelligence, customer trust and risk-taking have enabled Amazon to thrive and become the world’s largest retailer. There is much to be learned from Bezos concerning CX, so we have outlined some of the major takeaways from his statement below which highlight how putting CX first is the key to business success.
1. Figure out what people want and need before they do.
“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and a constant desire to delight customers drives us to constantly invent on their behalf.”
Bezos takes immense pride in Amazon’s “obsessive customer focus.” And it is due to this focus, coupled with their “Day One mentality” that Amazon improves their services, products, features before customers are unsatisfied with what is being offered to them. When it came to creating AWS, Bezos understood that “ the world was ready and hungry for cloud computing but didn’t know it yet.” Anticipating what your customers want before they do will ultimately be a gold-mine for success. This requires using empathy to better satisfy and understand customers. It’s not about turning unhappy customers into happy ones, it’s about continually improving and innovating to spark joy in customers who were already satisfied, so it is a pleasure for them to keep coming back. One of the best ways to anticipate what customers want is to ask them as part of your Voice of the Customer programme.
2. Big risks pay off.
“Amazon has made billions of dollars of failures. Failure inevitably comes along with invention and risk-taking, which is why we try to make Amazon the best place in the world to fail.”
Bezos took a lot of risks to start Amazon and to get it to where it is today. From risking his parents’ savings to start Amazon to betting on the internet before many people even understood what it was. As mentioned above, AWS was a prime example of this, as people saw a disconnect between an online book-seller and selling compute and storage. But the risk was worth it as they anticipated what customers wanted before the interest was already there. Another is their trust in third-party sellers, who are able to stow their inventory in Amazon’s own fulfilment centres so their products can get to customers faster, further serving Amazon’s customer-first promise. In the case of Amazon, risk-taking resulted in a lot of failures before they reached success, but those risks have seriously paid off, much to the benefit of their customers.
3. Trust is a two-way street.
“Customer trust is hard to win and easy to lose. When you let customers make your business what it is, then they will be loyal to you—right up to the second that someone else offers them better service. We know that customers are perceptive and smart. We take as an article of faith that customers will notice when we work hard to do the right thing, and that by doing so again and again, we will earn trust.”
When we look at this part of his statement, the emphasis is on how important it is to earn customer trust by delivering on promises and performing with consistency. Bezos also makes it clear that you can’t discount your customers’ intelligence and there is no fooling them. Trust that the customer knows best and design your business to cater to their needs, rather than hoping they align with your business-centric priorities. Ultimately, trust is the foundation of the business-customer relationship, so putting energy into cultivating that trust is a worthwhile endeavour. Customers recognize and admire when businesses do hard work on their behalf and reward that focus and trust with loyalty and trust in return.
4. Technology is a strength and a weakness.
“We and all other stores are acutely aware that, regardless of how the best features of “online” and “physical” stores are combined, we are all competing for and serving the same customers. The range of retail competitors and related services is constantly changing, and the only real constant in retail is customers’ desire for lower prices, better selection, and convenience.”
The retail market-place is incredibly diverse and despite Amazon’s massive success, there are ways they cannot compete in retail. While Amazon is, of course, an absolute behemoth in the online retail sphere, they do lack a personal touch which others can provide. Being an almost exclusively online retailer means that Amazon can’t compete with the likes of Walmart, Costco and Target who can offer in-person customer service as well as curbside pickup and online shopping. Customers will opt for whichever option is the most convenient for them personally and oftentimes that is the option closest to their home or that they can get most quickly. Bezos also mentions Shopify and Instacart, two companies which have made it easy for traditional retail stores or brands to enter the online-marketplace, further diversifying customers’ options globally.
5. Pay your success forward.
“At Amazon, customer obsession has made us what we are, and allowed us to do ever greater things. I know what Amazon could do when we were 10 people. I know what we could do when we were 1,000 people, and when we were 10,000 people. And I know what we can do today when we’re nearly a million…Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact on important societal issues.”
The final third or so of Bezos’ statement is a real push to remind Congress of how much Amazon does for Americans in the communities in which it operates. He highlights opening the largest homeless shelter in Washington where Amazon is headquartered, investments in the environment and the American economy, and various employee benefits and programs, among other contributions to American society. Here, Bezos is clearly trying to appeal to the empathy of the lawmakers he is addressing. To score even more empathy points, he also repeatedly reminds us that his story and that of Amazon is an example of the American dream, starting small and growing through trials and tribulations to become the success it is today.
But regardless of his intent in terms of coming out of the Congressional hearing well, companies that give back are always going to be perceived positively by customers. Reputation is important to customers, and if a multi-billion dollar company with almost a million direct employees, like Amazon, never did anything good for the world, customers would not continue to spend with the brand. Many of Amazon’s practices are known to be problematic, and Bezos, of course, neglects to address these issues, but by highlighting the positives, Bezos reminds us that even if Amazon is at a stage where it is too big to fail, the benefits they give to various communities, including many jobs, makes Amazon an integral part of American society, and other companies should follow suit to show their customers they care.