Does Amazon deserve the label of ‘Earth’s most customer-centric company’? Before I answer that question, allow me to tell you a little story about a well-known telecommunications company, one whose official strategy was to become customer-centric.
I once did some consulting work for one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies. In the process, a certain kind of fellowship grew between me and the billing manager. To some extent he was a frustrated man. Why? The billing challenge was growing more and more complex: requiring more people, more expensive IT equipment, stronger oversight etc. .
What was the cause of the increasing complexity and thus challenge in billing? The number of unique billing plans in place. There were thousands of them. And most of them were legacy billing plans – many years old. So I asked the billing manager, why he didn’t just move customers to the latest billing plans. And in so doing he would be free to delete the thousands of legacy billing plans that were the cause of the headache. Can you work out his answer?
He told me that he built a ‘business case’ and presented to his boss. Yet, the proposal had got nowhere because Marketing had vetoed is proposal. What was the basis of the veto? The legacy billing plans were much more profitable for the company. Why? Because compared to the latest, competitive, price plans, the legacy plans were overpriced. And if the company took the decision to move these customers, arguably the most loyal as they had been with the company for a long time (3+ years), then this would mean giving away revenues and profits.
What did customer-centricity actually mean in this company? It involved lots of activity: vision statements, presentations, meetings, talk, customer research, mystery shopping, process changes, balanced scorecard. What it did not involve was the conscious choice to do right by the customer: to put the wellbeing of the customer on par with the wellbeing of the company (revenues, profits, share price).
We all know that Amazon works. It is easy to find and buy from Amazon. It is easy to keep track of where one’s order is. Amazon delivers the goods within the promised window. It is easy to return goods and get a refund. And on the only occasion something did not turn up when expected, I found it easy to get hold of Customer Services, and the call was handled by a friendly agent, who got my situation, validated my feelings, made a promise to have the issue fixed by the next day, and it was fixed.
This level of performance has kept me doing business with Amazon despite my concerns over Amazon’s tax avoidance strategy, and the concerns about how Amazon treats the folks who work in the warehouses. And to some extent my disposition towards Amazon has been a pragmatic one rather than one of affinity with what Amazon stands for.
This week the situation changed. What happened? My wife signed up for the Amazon Prime offer and she then enrolled me into it as well. As a result, I found renting and watching a movie (on demand) with my eldest son. The experience of selecting, paying for, and watching the movie was effortless.
The next day, to my astonishment (I do not use the world lightly), I found myself reading the following email:
We’re contacting you about your recent attempt to purchase “The Wolverine”. We recently learned that a technical issue may have prevented you from being able to watch this video. We’re very sorry about this.
To help make it up to you, we’ve issued a £3.48 for this order. The refund will be applied to your original order payment method and should complete within the next 2-3 business days.
We look forward to seeing you again soon.
Please note: this e-mail was sent from a notification-only address that cannot accept incoming e-mail. Please do not reply to this message.
Why was I astonished? I was and continue to be surprised that there is a commercial organisation that gives! What does it give? Proactive service. An apology. A refund. And all on the basis that a technical issue may have prevented me from watching the movie!
Once I got over my astonishment who was I left thinking-feeling? Given that I had watched the movie without any problems, and Amazon had been generous, I found a strong urge to contact Amazon and ask them to take their money back. Why? Because, I was brought up to repay good with good, generosity with generosity, considerateness with considerateness. Then I read the bottom of the email and found I could not reply to the email.
What did I find myself doing within 24 hours of receiving this email? I found myself buying a book, that I had been meaning to buy and had not bought, for £9 and watching a movie that I had not been intending to watch (this week) for £3.49.
Why did I do this? It occurred to me that I could not treat badly one who has treated me well. And as such I felt a pull to repay Amazon’s ‘goodness’ by repaying the £3.49, which I did by buying and watching a movie on the day of the email.
If the acid test of customer-centricity is putting the needs-interests of customers on par with the needs of the company then I am in no doubt that Amazon is customer-centric. Is this enough to show up as Earth’s customer-centric company? No. To win that mantle it occurs to me that an organisation chooses to prosper only by doing right by customers. That is how Amazon shows up for me this week. I cannot imagine any other company (that I am doing business with) taking the stance that Amazon takes in relation to its customers.
For those who are cynics, I get that Amazon may have taken a pragmatic decision to provide the refund so as to reduce the number of calls (and/or emails) coming into the call-centres. Even if this is the case, then the action that Amazon has taken is smart. So at the very least the folks at Amazon are smart in a way that also benefits customers.
Photo Credit: Amazon and Customer Service/shutterstock