Think customer centricity is just a business buzzword? Don’t tell that to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who’s made customer service and user experience the hallmarks of his iconic company.
When many founders look at their customers, they see revenue, a series of transactions, or maybe personas they can market to. When Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos looks at his customers, he sees something much different.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts,” Bezos has said. “It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
And that’s not just lip service.
As author Brad Stone shows with his new book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Bezos is the epitome of customer-centricity. He’s admittedly obsessed about delivering a flawless customer experience, and requires every Amazon employee — from software engineers to warehouse workers to executives — to have the same attitude toward customer service. Heck, even the company’s logo is subtly designed to portray a customer’s smile.
That customer-centric approach has paid off in a big way for Amazon, too. The company is expected to bring in about $75 billion in revenue this year, and it recently topped MSN Money’s customer service Hall-of-Fame rankings for the fourth consecutive year.
So, what can you learn from Bezos and Amazon? Here are five tips from Amazon’s customer service strategy that will help your company embrace the power of customer centricity:
1) Bake Customer Service into Your Culture
Since it’s founding in 1994, Amazon has evolved from a virtual bookstore to a virtual Wal-Mart where customers can buy anything their heart desires. The company’s focus on customer service, however, hasn’t changed one bit.
Today, Amazon’s mission statement begins with the desire to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company,” and its practices consistently deliver on that mission. The lesson is saying your business is customer-centric will only get you so far. You need to weave that belief into your culture. Every employee in your organization must be equally obsessed with (and focused on) delivering outstanding customer experiences.
2) Get Everyone Involved
On that note, the sure way to create a customer-centric corporate culture is to make sure every employee has a stake in customer happiness.
Many Amazon employees — from entry-level workers to board-level executives — are asked to attend two days of call-center training. The goal is simple: Make certain everyone in the company, not just those on the frontline on customer service, are committed to listening to, understanding, and acting on the needs of each customer.
3) Be Accessible
Many businesses claim to be customer-centric, but don’t make it easy for customers to contact the business when they have a problem. All too often, customer service requests are filtered through automated phone systems or email addresses, which fail to develop a sense that the company’s first priority is delivering outstanding customer service.
Bezos leads in the opposite direction: He makes his email address public and encourages customers to reach out to him with complaints. When he receives a message from a disgruntled Amazon customer, Bezos forwards it to the appropriate department with a very simple, one-character note: “?” And when Amazon employees receive those messages, they often drop everything to address it. That’s great customer service.
4) Build a Direct Feedback Loop
At Amazon, customer complaints don’t disappear once they’ve been addressed by customer service reps. Instead, feedback is turned into WOCAS report, an acronym that stands for “what our customers are saying.”
As former Amazon Global VP of Customer Service (and current OpenView Senior Advisor), Bill Price explains in this interview, WOCAS reports were developed to curate customer service-collected insights and deliver them directly to department leaders. But it doesn’t stop there. Amazon actually empowers its customer service reps to take actin when they notice a trending or particularly glaring problem.
5) Be Accountable
Customer service is nothing without accountability. If a customer submits a complaint and you do nothing about it, customers won’t feel any more vindicated than if you’d made it impossible to submit that complaint in the first place.
To be truly customer-centric, you need to take some sort of action to show the customer that you’re actually listening to what they say. At Amazon, the company measures and tracks every customer interaction with the hope of preventing any issue from being unaddressed, and it ends every email interaction with a common refrain: “Was this answer helpful?”
How Customer-Centric is Your Company?
When a business scales, it can be difficult to maintain the same level of intimate, one-on-one customer service that it provided as a startup — but that doesn’t make it any less important to do.
As entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos continue to prove, obsessing over customer experience will never go out of style or lose its importance — particularly in an age when customers have greater access to companies and more forums to express their displeasure.
Put another way: “If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends,” Bezos once said. “If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”
Looking for Some Inspiration?
Check out what some of the world’s most foremost business leaders have to say on adopting a customer-focused philosophy.
Photo by: Luke Dorny