If you’d bought $1,000 of Amazon shares in 2008, they’d be worth $20,000 in mid-2018, when the e-commerce giant’s stock reached an all-time high.
Some commentators have tried to explain this phenomenal rise in terms of economies of scale or aggressive business practices, but most – including the top staff at Amazon – agree that it’s down a relentless focus on customer experience.
Amazon is a customer-centric organisation. This doesn’t just mean it values its customers and tries to give them the best service. It means that customer service is at the very core of its business model.
As Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said:
“There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality [the youthful energy of a company, characterised by a focus on outcomes rather than processes].”
Essentially, Amazon reverse-engineers its decisions based on what the customer wants; they find ways of delivering them in a business context afterwards. As their astonishing performance shows, this focus makes a lot of business sense too.
Now, you might be thinking that your company is a lot smaller than Amazon. And it is. For now. But along with the other tech giants, Amazon sets the bar for User Experience. Customers now expect all their online interactions to be at, or very near, that level.
So, without further ado, what lessons can we learn?
Make sure your focus on customer experience truly extends throughout the company
From day one, the paramount importance of the customer gets drilled into every Amazon employee – at every level of the business.
Famously, every manager at the company needs to do two days of training in a call centre each year – including the CEO.
This policy is meant to ensure that the top team doesn’t stray out of touch, and remains connected to the genuine, everyday concerns of Amazon customers.
Perhaps there’s an element of PR to this move – but it works. It’s a concrete way of showing that their dedication to the customer spans the entire business.
Other Amazon policies of this nature have now slipped into legend, such as every meeting room having an empty chair symbolising ‘The Customer’.
They describe this continual focus as ‘Customer Obsession’. When you combine this with a company desire to keep improving, stay fresh and never be satisfied with anything less than 100% completion on all orders, you can begin to understand how they’ve come as far as they have. I think we can all learn from Amazon on this one.
Deal with customer complaints promptly – don’t be pedantic
Amazon is renowned for the speed at which it refunds customers. From a business perspective, this might mean letting a few things go on an individual level, but it makes a lot of sense on a larger scale.
For instance, if a customer gets bogged down in a week-long saga over what happened to the shoes they ordered in the mail, even if they finally get their refund from customer service, the length of the process they went through might put them off future purchases. In such a situation, Amazon realise it’s better to give a refund rapidly and maintain that customer’s loyalty.
Ultimately, they care about the lifetime value of their customers, not only individual purchases. The long game is the only one worth playing for Amazon.
Keep Innovating New Ways To Engage Your Customer
Even from the beginning, Jeff Bezos knew he didn’t just want to sell books. He saw the global potential of his business right from the off, but equally, he knew he needed to build up a reputation as a trustworthy online merchant first. Books were the place to build that trust.
The rest is history, of course, but this same principle extends to newer aspects of Amazon’s strategy. They demonstrate excellence in a particular field, building up their credibility and customer loyalty as they do so. Then they can expand more confidently into new areas, knowing their customers will follow them – such as paying £79 a year for a Prime subscription.
This is a great strategy, and one that explains how they’ve been creeping up on Microsoft and Apple over the last couple of years.
Now, the brand strength has got to the point where Amazon can move away from their core retail business into new areas: into Amazon Web Services, physical grocery stores, even small-scale business loans. In fact, their brand is so much stronger than any high-street bank that if they announced Prime Banking, it would probably get millions of customers overnight.
Learn from Amazon
The curious thing about Amazon’s strategy is its beguiling simplicity. Yes, they’re the biggest company in the world, but they do the basics well, and their essential strategy is simple – prioritise the customer. This is fundamentally integrated into their business model, and their core policies – Customer Obsession, speedy, effective complaint handling and steady expansion into new areas – are all about giving the customer what they want. There’s a lot to learn from Amazon for any CX professional.
Customer Experience professionals should view Amazon’s strategy as a real victory for the entire profession: a company with a customer-centric business model is perhaps the most valuable company in the world. And their secret is having clear goals, values and priorities, and executing them with ruthless efficiency to serve their customers.
Do you have an inspiring Customer Experience story to share? Enter the UK Customer Experience Awards 2019 today!