5 ways Jeff Bezos transformed customer experience
With Amazon’s founder announcing he will step down as the company’s chief executive later this year, MyCustomer reflects on Bezos’s role in advancing the field of customer experience.
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has announced he will step down as chief executive of the retail and technology giant, in the second half of 2021.
Bezos has overseen Amazon’s stratospheric rise from early-90s online bookshop to world’s biggest brand, with the company becoming a market leader in ecommerce, entertainment, cloud computing and package delivery.
Amazon was declared a ‘trillion dollar business’ early in January 2020, with Bezos reportedly amassing a personal fortune close to $200bn.
However, it is in the field of customer experience where Amazon has always historically excelled.
With the announcement of his departure, we look back at some examples of when Jeff Bezos and Amazon pushed the envelope for CX.
Developing the customer ‘obsession’
Jeff Bezos has always been famed for his position on CX. Even in the early 2000s he was recognising the importance of making customer experience central to Amazon’s ambitious global vision:
“If there's one reason we have done better than of our peers in the internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience.”
However, the Amazon boss also took the idea of a customer-centric business one step further, as Beyond Philosophy’s Colin Shaw explained on MyCustomer in 2017:
“As Bezos’ put it, one has to develop ‘customer obsession.’ Just being customer focused won’t cut it, it’s not a passionate stance enough.
“He says that customers are never really truly satisfied so there’s always a learning curve, always a knowledge gap one has to fill. This leads to more innovation, and better sales result in the long run.
“We live in the age where the customer rules. You cannot interrupt customer experience to ‘push’ your agenda anymore. You have to learn to add to their experience and ‘pull’ them in. To do this, understanding the customer’s point of view is imperative.”
Making customer needs the driver of innovation
As Michael Hinshaw highlighted in 2016, when Amazon first launched in 1994, the idea that anyone might be making purchases of any kind via the internet was a prescient leap of faith. But Bezos recognised the need early, and built a company based on taking innovation risks.
“Customers had to learn to trust the method of buying something online — a challenge Bezos met largely because he placed such strong emphasis on customer service,” says Hinshaw.
“But books were never the end game for Amazon. Since then, the company has obviously expanded into other products and services to meet its shoppers’ content needs such as streaming and digital downloads. The company has also created its own hardware such as the Kindle e-reader. The lesson here is to never get comfortable with your success. Customer preferences are always evolving and always will, so let your their needs drive your innovation.”
Being wherever the customer is
Expanding on the need to evolve and take risks to meet customer preferences, a key part of Jeff Bezos’s success with customer experience is also about having an acute understanding of the need to be wherever the customer is.
Often this has been about taking huge risks in the name of developing a company with a truly omnichannel approach to CX – i.e. deciding to trial the building of bricks-and-mortar stores at a time when many other retail companies were shutting down their physical operations, because Bezos recognised the need to make Amazon more present beyond the digital space.
It has also meant taking risks on developing customer service tools such Mayday, which promised to connect users of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets to a real-life agent via video, in a maximum of 15 seconds.
And perhaps most significantly, it’s been about identifying new service channels – such as the nascent voice assistant market with its Alexa technology, connecting the internet (and crucially the Amazon marketplace) to people “in an age where we all feel time-poor and on the lookout for new ways to interact with a business as quickly as possible”, as Engage Hubs’ Lorna Crowley eloquently explained on MyCustomer in 2017.
Part of Alexa’s appeal is how frictionless it is as a channel. It’s a word that Amazon has becoming famed for, and while companies that offer ‘frictionless experiences’ undoubtedly have their critics, Jeff Bezos’s vision for Amazon has always centred on the spirit of being easy to use.
“Dash buttons, one-click checkout, and Amazon Pay are all 'prime' examples of seamless experiences,” explains Jenna Alburger.
“They represent Amazon's dedication to speed, choice, convenience and accessibility.”
Alburger uses the example of Amazon’s almost surreptitious 2020 launch of a new chatbot – at a time when chatbots were considered less than au fait – in order “to help streamline post-purchase support”.
“Amazon's customer service chatbot is just one recent step the company took towards frictionless shopping,” says Alburger.
“Amazon's customer service chatbot doesn’t rely on AI or natural language processing. It’s not trying to mimic a live conversation with a customer or solve an unlimited number of use cases. Instead, it's guard-railed enough to guide a customer quickly to a path of resolution.
“In a time when AI and voice assistants (like Amazon's own Alexa) exist, sometimes it's easy to forget that the most efficient solution is often a simple one.”
Giving the customer a chair
An apocryphal tale, perhaps, but one that highlights the dedication to customer experience Jeff Bezos instilled in the Amazon boardroom, from the very beginning.
“Bezos left a single chair empty around the boardroom table,” Ian Rhodes, the founder of the Ecommerce Growth Co. describes.
“It signified the presence of the customer. No matter what the discussion point, conversation would be aligned with the question ‘what’s best for our customer?’ Why? Because that empty chair represented far more than a void at the table. It represented exactly what every business decision, one way or another, meant to the chief decision-maker: the customer.”
Crucially, the empty chair is a statement that customer experience was always a primary goal for Jeff Bezos and Amazon, but that it must be backed up with action.
As Inc.com’s John Koitsier explains:
“It sounds cheesy, and it probably feels that way sometimes for insiders. But it is a way of visually compelling every meeting participant and every discussion to reference Amazon's customers. And it'd be hard to argue that the company's single-minded obsession with customers hasn't stood it in good stead.”
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.