Ok, so we actually haven’t read the book yet — it’s due to hit shelves next week — but Bloomberg Businessweek has published an excerpt from senior writer Brad Stone’s latest, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Little, Brown), and there are a number of critical takeaways for business of all sizes.
Here are the top five lessons for companies that want to learn from Amazon’s customer-obsessed culture — one that helped the company bring in around $75 billion in revenues this year:
Customer service starts at the top. Bezos’ public email inbox ([email protected]) receives many customer complaints, and he often forwards them to appropriate department heads for explanation with a single character: ? Stone reports: “When Amazon employees get a Bezos question mark e-mail, they react as though they’ve discovered a ticking bomb. They’ve typically got a few hours to solve whatever issue the CEO has flagged and prepare a thorough explanation for how it occurred, a response that will be reviewed by a succession of managers before the answer is presented to Bezos himself. Such escalations, as these e-mails are known,are Bezos’s way of ensuring that the customer’s voice is constantly heard inside the company.” Why does this matter? It’s the responsibility of everyone in an organization to ensure customers receive great service, and this focus on the customer needs to be frequently reinforced by leadership. No executive should ever be exempt from servicing customers and being their top advocates internally.
No amount of revenue is worth jeopardizing customer trust. Emails marketing “a variety of gels and other intimacy facilitators” were sent to certain customers who had browsed the personal lubricants section of the Amazon website, and when this was brought to Bezos’s attention by a customer, he demanded they shut down the email marketing channel all together to investigate — despite the fact that they were bringing in hundreds of millions in revenue for the company.
All customer feedback matters… Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s senior vice president for North American retail, is quoted in the excerpt as saying “Every anecdote from a customer matters. We research each of them because they tell us something about our processes. It’s an audit that is done for us by our customers. We treat them as precious sources of information.” The answers are likely in the details, so pay close attention to what your customers are saying about the experience with your brand.
…But don’t forget about metrics. According to Stone, “Customer anecdotes have no place at these [Amazon review] meetings; numbers alone must demonstrate what’s working and what’s broken, how customers are behaving, and ultimately how well the company overall is performing.”
Build customer service into your company’s DNA. In the excerpt, Stone notes that “frugality” is one of 14 leadership principles at Amazon. The rationale? “We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers.”
What are your company’s guiding principles? Are they customer-centric, and are they known by everyone within the organization?
Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is available for preorder at (you guessed it) Amazon.com.