Customer-Focused Culture by Living With Your Customers: A Lesson From Amazon

Customer Experience ManagementYou never know someone so well as when they live with you! What better way to transform your culture to truly customer-centric ways of thinking and doing, than to invite your customer to attend all your discussions? This has long been a practice at Amazon, since founder Jeff Bezos once started an executive meeting by announcing that an empty chair at the table represented “the customer”. Throughout the meeting, the executives were compelled to include the customer in their thought process, and to consider their comments’ implications on the customer, as if “he/she” were present.

This practice became a habit at Amazon, part of their corporate culture. CTO Werner Vogels explains: “It’s very important to have a culture where everybody understands what the core values of the company are. New starters are often surprised at how important focusing on the customer is to us and how good Amazon is at doing that. … We often have meetings where we start off with a ‘customer voice’ — a success story, even sometimes a negative story, of a customer’s experience of buying on Amazon — and use those stories to drive our services to become better. … We want to be the most customer-centric company on the planet.”

Customer FocusThe elusiveness of true customer-focus is evident in several studies, such as Accenture’s Delivering the Promise study, where 75% of surveyed executives viewed their customer service as above-average, while 59% of their customers reported their experience with these companies’ service as somewhat to extremely dissatisfying. Another example is CMO Council’s Customer Affinity study where half of companies said they’re extremely customer-centric, but when customers of those companies were asked, only a tenth of them said those companies were extremely customer-centric, but when customers of those companies were asked, only a tenth of them said those companies were extremely customer-centric.

As Amazon exemplifies, building a customer-focused culture is an ongoing journey. This journey is called internal branding, where outside-in thinking is integrated into the job of everyone company-wide, managing their personal impact on customer experience. Top-performing companies in customer service, according to JD Power & Associates’ recent studies, are: Amazon, USAA, Jaguar, Ritz Carlton, Publix Super Markets, Zappos, Hewlett-Packard, T Rowe Price, and Ace Hardware. These companies are well-respected on several dimensions, demonstrating that it pays dividends to put customers’ well-being first.

Challenge your organization to follow their examples. Invite your “customer” to attend all your discussions company-wide, and see what a difference it makes in transitioning to outside-in thinking that results in actions your customers would agree are in their best interest. In the meantime you’ll be building customer affinity that translates to sustainable market leadership.

Contact the author, Lynn Hunsaker, to find out how to customize these tips to your situation.

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3 thoughts on “Customer-Focused Culture by Living With Your Customers: A Lesson From Amazon

  1. Tom O'Brien

    When PEMCO Insurance in Seattle was having this conversation in a Sr. management retreat – the CMO Rod Brooks challenged the rest of the exec team to put their money where their mouth was.

    Rod listened to everyone talk about the importance of service and being customer-centric, so he laid down a simple challenge. If we are serious about this then we should rip our all the automated phone systems and have a person answer every single inbound call.

    They did it. That is commitment to being customer-centric. The rest is mostly talking.


  2. Rotkapchen

    Loved the piece until you got to “internal branding”. Marketing maybe, but a brand is intentionally an artifact of meaning. Working to achieve common meaning (or participatory consciousness) is not meaningful when labeled “internal branding”.

  3. Lynn Hunsaker

    Thanks for your comment, Rotkapchen. Perhaps a different label may work better, but there is certainly a big gap in most companies between what customers think they’re hearing versus and what customers get. I believe there’s a domino-effect between internal business processes and customer touchpoints. Please see the graph in this post and the hyper-link on the phrase Customer-Centric, to see what I mean about the need for the brand promise to be better understood and delivered with greater consistency.

    Hoping to see your comments in other posts, too.

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