Last week, I wrote about Union Bank and their “Do Right” campaign. I love the campaign, but I was left with questions as to whether employees live it and customers experience it. One company who leaves me with no such questions is Amazon.

In preparation for the upcoming 2013 Amazon Shareholders Meeting in Seattle, Amazon released their 2012 Letter to Shareholders (link will download the letter) late last week. Let’s just say that it does not disappoint. Jeff Bezos continues to prove that he and Amazon put customers first. You can download and read the letter for yourself, but I’ll call out some of the highlights in a moment.

What I love is that Mr. Bezos also includes a copy of the first shareholder letter he wrote, back in 1997 (the year Amazon first went public). Apparently he attaches that original letter to every year’s shareholder letter, reminding us that “it’s still Day 1,” meaning that we still have a lot to learn and much room for growth and improvement.

This guy is a CX dream come true!

In that 1997 letter, he outlines a long list of items that summarize his fundamental approach to management and decision making. I’ll call out the first and the last bullet points; all of the others (7) in between relate to investment decisions.

First bullet point: “We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers.” Yay!

Last bullet point: “We will continue to focus on hiring and retaining versatile and talented employees, and continue to weight their compensation to stock options rather than cash. We know our success will be largely affected by our ability to attract and retain a motivated employee base, each of whom must think like, and therefore must actually be, an owner.” Yay!

In that letter, he goes on to describe what it means and what they had done to show they truly obsess over customers – and the business outcomes as a result of doing so. And he explains what it’s like to work at Amazon and the type of employees he’s looking for: “The past year’s success is the product of a talented, smart, hard-working group, and I take great pride in being a part of this team. Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.

Back to the future… let’s see how he did with all of that. The 2012 letter has all the ingredients of a customer-centric company. I think it’s safe to stay he’s stayed on course for the last 15 years. I’ll pull out some key quotes to highlight that.

“…our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors.”

“…but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture.”

One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity.

These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader.”

We didn’t “have to” make these improvements in Prime. We did so proactively.”

It has been a game changer for our seller customers because their items become eligible for Prime benefits, which drives their sales, while at the same time benefitting consumers with additional Prime selection.”

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.”

Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust.”

There isn’t competitive pressure to pay authors more than once every six months, but we’re proactively doing so.”

We want to make money when people use our devices – not when people buy our devices. We think this aligns us better with customers.”

Yes, we are actively telling customers they’re paying us more than they need to.”

“…internal motivation – the drive to get the customer to say “Wow” – keeps the pace of innovation fast.”

Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.”

We don’t celebrate a 10% increase in the stock price like we celebrate excellent customer experience.”

All I can say is, “Wow!” I have no doubt in my mind about these words and what they mean; I’ve been an Amazon customer for a very long time. I’ve never been disappointed, but I’ve been delighted many times.

As a leader, Mr. Bezos shows that he’s both the customer and the employee champion. Reading through the 2012 letter again, the following traits and qualities come to mind – all of which are certainly descriptive of a customer-centric culture:

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Best interest of customers
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Not being opportunistic
  • Customers ahead of shareholders
  • Innovation
  • Passionate
  • Humble
  • Proactive
  • Delight

Do any of those describe your organization’s values and culture?

I dare you to find another shareholder letter that rallies this one!

We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. -Jeff Bezos