Put Buyers First? What a Concept describes the way Amazon bailed out a reporter after he realized his son’s PlayStation gift had been stolen after being signed for.
The Amazon customer service guy didn’t blink. After assuring himself that I had never actually touched or seen the PlayStation, he had a replacement on the way before the day was out. It arrived on Christmas Eve. Amazon didn’t even charge me for the shipping. My son was very happy. So, of course, was I.
The article goes on to discuss how taking care of customers can be the best way to build a lasting business, even if it comes at the expense of short-term results.
But I couldn’t help wondering if maybe there wasn’t something else at play here, something Wall Street never seems to take very seriously. Maybe, just maybe, taking care of customers is something worth doing when you are trying to create a lasting company. Maybe, in fact, it’s the best way to build a real business — even if it comes at the expense of short-term results.
It is almost impossible to read or see an interview with Mr. Bezos in which he doesn’t, at some point, begin to wax on about what he likes to call “the customer experience.” Just a few months ago, for instance, he appeared on Charlie Rose’s talk show to tout Amazon’s new e-book device, the Kindle. Toward the end of the program, Mr. Rose asked the chief executive an open-ended question about how he spent his time, and Mr. Bezos responded with a soliloquy about his “obsession” with customers.
“They care about having the lowest prices, having vast selection, so they have choice, and getting the products to customers fast,” he said. “And the reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.”
Anybody who has spent any time around Mr. Bezos knows that this is not just some line he throws out for public consumption. It has been the guiding principle behind Amazon since it began. “Jeff has been focused on the customer since Day 1,” said Suresh Kotha, a management professor at the University of Washington business school who has written several case studies about Amazon. Mr. Miller noted that Amazon has really had only one stated goal since it began: to be the most customer-centric company in the world.
According to the article, Bezos’ obsession with customers has paid off too…
But Mr. Bezos refused to give in. “He was spending his time on long-term value creation,” Mr. Miller said. There aren’t many chief executives who can so easily ignore the entreaties of the investment community, but Mr. Bezos turned out to be one of them. Of course it helps that he owns over 100 million shares of the stock — and is the company’s single largest shareholder…
There is simply no question that Mr. Bezos’s obsession with his customers — and the long term — has paid off, even if he had to take some hits to the stock price along the way. Surely, it was worth it. As for me, the $500 favor the company did for me this Christmas will surely rebound in additional business down the line. Why would I ever shop anywhere else online? Then again, there may be another reason good customer service makes sense. “Jeff used to say that if you did something good for one customer, they would tell 100 customers,” Mr. Kotha said.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in 37signals.