What Is The Single Most Critical Factor in CRM / CX / Digital Success?

Recently I was pitching for new work and the question that keeps coming up came up. This question is alway some form of “What is the single most critical factor in ……..?”   Examples include:

  • What is the single most critical factor in coming up with a great strategy?
  • What is the single most critical factor in CRM / marketing automation success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in customer experience success?
  • What is the single most critical factor in making a success transition into a digital business?
  • What is the single most critical factor in effecting organisational change?
  • What is the single most critical factor in managing CRM projects and programmes?
  • What is the single most critical factor in getting folks to adopt new systems?

You get the idea.  No matter the domain, sooner or later a client will want to know what is the single most critical factor to success.

If find it interesting how it is that intelligent folks ask such a stupid question – with no awareness as to what makes this a stupid question. Do you get what it is that makes this question stupid?

The assumption behind this question is that the world, in which we find ourselves, is simple, silo’d, and linear.  It assumes that the when it comes to dealing with challenges (and creating new futures) you can identify, isolate, work on one key factor – and this will ensure the desired outcome.  It assumes that this factor is invariant across time – that it is always the same one thing that matters most irrespective of time, situation, context…

What if the challenge that we face is similar to the challenge that the juggler faces? The very nature of juggling involves juggling many balls at the same time. As such, does it not involve competence in using a wide angle lens to keep track of all the balls? And at the same time, focusing on the one or two balls which are at the forefront at the moment in time? And at the same time keeping one’s attention over the environment in which one finds oneself in: the audience, the surroundings, the weather….?

I say to you that what makes CRM, customer experience, digital marketing, digital business, marketing-sales-service effectiveness challenging is that there is no single factor that is critical to success!  I say to you that no ‘guru’, no consultancy, no vendor has the magical recipe that takes the messiness out of life and guarantees a quick-easy journey to success.

So what is it that you have to put into the CRM, CX, Digital game?  You have to start working on that which needs work. You have to attract the right folks to work with you on your challenge / desired outcome. You have to get hold of the necessary resources. You have to be attuned to that which is going on within and around you. You have to accept-embrace failures. You have to fail your way to success by keenly attuned to the visible and the invisible and making the necessary corrections as and when these are called for.  You have to give up the stupid notion that there is one single most critical factor to success. And you have to continuously free yourself (and others) from the addiction to the short-cut.

I say to you that it is foolish to search for and focus on that one most critical success factor. I say to you even more foolish than this foolishness, is the foolishness of searching for and fixating on some magical potion: approach, methodology, technique, technology… I say to you that any person that offers you a single most critical success factor or magical potion is either a fool or a charlatan.

I invite you to consider that there is no single most critical factor in CRM / CX / Digital success!  Enough for today, I thank you for listening.

Tales of Customer Experience: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly?

giffgaff: Wow! What A Delightful Experience.

Youngest, daughter, has ‘lost’ her mobile phone. So she logged me into her giffgaff account on the website. I clicked the “Help” tab. Then I clicked “Lost & Stolen”. Then I chose “Lost Both My Phone and SIM”.  At this point I was expecting to be told that the phone and SIM had been blocked. And a new SIM would be with me in a couple of days. That would have been a good enough experience: got the job done in a couple of minutes.

That is not what happened. Once I selected the “Lost Both My Phone and SIM” option I was informed that the phone and sim were now blocked. AND I was informed that I could get a replacement SIM activated immediately instead of waiting for one to arrive in a couple of days.  How so?  By getting hold of and activating an existing giffgaff SIM – one that had not been activated to date. How is that possible? giffgaff, as a matter of course, sends extra SIMs to members. Why? So that they can give them to those who they think would benefit from being members of giffgaff.

As a result of this capability, I was able to hand over a fully working mobile phone on the giffgaff network to my daughter in less than five minutes – start to finish!  That was my desired, real, outcome. And arriving at this desired outcome in five minutes as opposed to several days left me delighted; I am a protective parent!

What is unconcealed here?  The starting point for customer-centricity is authentic care for one’s customers.  When this is in place then the folks in the organisation will exercise thoughtfulness. In so doing, these folks will make it easy and enriching for customers to do business with that organisation.  And in the process the organisation will both generate customer loyalty and reduce waste – doing stuff that costs money but does not create value for customers from the customer point of view.

What can I say? I love the folks at giffgaff. I love how thoughtful and smart they are. I love how easy they make life for me.  I’d happily recommend giffgaff and have done so many times!

RAC: Regulation of Call-Centre Agent Behaviour Is What Matters, Not The Customer Experience

Youngest son bought a car and in the process he was about to buy breakdown insurance. I told him that he didn’t need to do that as I’d put him on my existing breakdown policy with the RAC. I rang the RAC expecting a brief conversation of the following kind:

Me: I’d like to put my son Marco on my existing breakdown policy. Here is the policy number. What is the cost?

Call-centre agent: The cost is £x. Does that work for you?

Me: Yes, here is my credit card number.

Call-centre agent: That’s done for you. We’ll send out a membership card to your son in the next couple of days.

Me: Thank you.

How did the conversation actually go?  It took some time. I found myself frustrated. I found myself raising my voice. I found myself angry. Why? Once the helpful young man had verified who I was he proceeded to ask me stupid questions.  What made these questions stupid?  He already had the answers to these questions. He was asking about the services that my son would need. And I told him those on the existing policy: roadside recovery, home recovery, onward travel, and European travel.

So why did this friendly professional (sounding) call-centre agent ask me questions to which he already had the answers?  Because he had to: the ‘designers’ of the call-centre operation had come up with a script and he had to follow it to the letter so that he would be in compliance with the script.  After all the phone call was being recorded and the quality folks would be listening in to ensure compliance with the script.

What a waste! What a waste of my, the customer’s, time. What a waste of the intelligence of the call-centre agent. What a waste of valuable call-centre resource: the time of the call-centre agent. What a waste of an opportunity to deliver a great customer experience and generate goodwill.  What a waste!

What is unconcealed here?  There is a conflict between the way organisations are designed to operate (regulate the behaviour of the folks in the organisation so as to facilitate command and control) and the flexibility (of response) that has to be in place in order for the customer facing folks to respond intelligently to this particular customer, at this particular time, as regards this particular context.

 Sainsburys Bank: A Good Experience Turns Ugly

Eldest, son, asked for help in signing up for a suitable credit cards. I did the research and identified several providers. In the process I found three providers which appealed to me. I signed up for each of these providers – one of these being Sainsburys Bank. All three providers made it easy to sign-up. All three did the background checks on me, verified me as sound credit risk, approved me as customers and gave me a credit limit.  Two of them, at the end of the process, invited-encouraged me to setup an online account with them so that I could manage my account online.

Several days later I got the paperwork through from all three providers.  Two providers sent me confirmation paperwork, terms and conditions, and the passwords/codes I’d need to use the credit cards. One provider – Sainsburys Bank – didn’t. What did Sainsburys Bank send me?  It send me a bunch of unappealing (black and white) paperwork to read and sign!  This struck me as such a disconnect!  How antiquated in comparison to the other two providers! What a great way to foul up a great digital experience! The whole point of digital is that stuff can be done there and then, in real-time.

What is unconcealed here?  Some folks just don’t get digital. Some folks just don’t get mobile. Some folks don’t get social. Some folks just don’t get how to use the various customer interaction channels intelligently. More importantly, some folks don’t get customers. A customer who chooses to interact with you through digital channels is looking for a digital experience. A customer who chooses to ring in to the call-centre is looking to talk with an intelligent-friendly human being – not navigate a frustrating-inhuman IVR.  You get the idea.

It occurs to me that established organisations have a long and difficult path ahead of them if they are to compete on the quality of the Customer Experience.  On the Customer Experience path the advantage lies with the younger, greenfield, organisations which do not have to deal with the legacy of relational and technical debt.  And  that is food for a future conversation.  Thanks for listening.

Why Have CRM, 1:1 Marketing, and Customer Experience Failed?

I am clear that CRM, 1:1 Marketing and Customer Experience have failed to deliver on the promises made by professors/academics, authors/gurus, consultants and technology vendors.  Why?  Given the choice between changing our way of showing up and operating in the world or changing our words, almost all of us get busy learning-speaking a new vocabulary.

I have been investigating the domains of ‘digital marketing’ and the  ‘marketing cloud’. In the process I have been listening to pitches made by marketing vendors.  All the relationship-experience centred buzzwords are there: customer experiences, digital experiences, the mobile experience, customer engagement, customer relationships, responsiveness to customers…..  Yet, to the listening of a skeptic like me, something lies hidden under this fine rhetoric.

If you dig underneath what is it that you might find?  You might find that the narrative comes down to the following:

  1. We will put at your disposal an advanced scalable platform where you can suck in anything and everything that you have or can purchase on your customers (and prospects) to give you a 360 view of your customers irrespective of any concern-respect for the privacy of your customers.

  2. We have great tools that allows you to set-up customer journeys and determine when you want to hit customers with your messages, and how often you want to hit them with these messages.

  3. You can use our advanced decisioning engine to figure out what ‘product’, what offer, what message to push at your customer. And If the customer doesn’t respond to that message then our engine will learn and use this learning to come up with a better-different-more attractive message.

  4. We will put at your disposal the ability to send your messages to your customers 24/7/365 through any and every digital interaction channel that your customer uses. So there is no escape. Wherever the customer is, you can invade his privacy, and message him/her.  And,

  5. By doing this you will drive up your marketing effectiveness, make more money for your organisation and live happily every after because you have the tools to make your customers buy, buy, buy – from you.

This is not technology enabled relationship building.  It shows up for me as direct marketing on steroids. It is the nightmare scenario that my coauthor and I envisaged back in 2001 when we were advocating and advising on 1:1 marketing.  It occurs to me that this is technology enabled stalking/harassment: it is the epitome of the business as usual (transactional) way of showing up and travelling in the world.

How is this best summed up?  Allow me to share these words of wisdom from David Maister:

What all these problems have in common is that firms are not only “in it for the money,” but they want the money now! As a result, they talk a good game about long term relationship building marketing efforts, the truth is that these efforts are never really executed well unless they deliver results immediately.

Here is my prediction:

  • marketers (and their IT advisors) will lap up the story being pushed by consultants and technology vendors;

  • only a subset of marketers will do what it takes to become competent at making this technology actually work;

  • those marketers who do figure out how to make this advanced technology actually work (or who use outside agencies with technology savvy) will bombard customers with messages; and

  • the novelty of this ‘seduction’ will wear off and customers will learn to tune out and/or work around the marketer’s arsenal.

I have been wrong. And I may turn out to be wrong again. What do you think?

 

Halfords Autocentres Co-create a Great Customer Experience

The Situation: An Unexpected Problem Shows Up

I got a phone call to tell me that it had not been possible to get the road tax renewed. Why? Because the MOT had run out. Given that I had asked (and paid for) the car to be ‘road taxed’ over two weeks ago, I was not happy to get this news when the road tax had run out. So I set myself the task of getting the car through its MOT on the next day – the day where I would be working from home.

The Customer Experience

1) Research Phase: Finding A Suitable Local MOT Centre

About 7-8 am I turned up at Google and searched for MOT centres in my part of the world. Halfords Autocentres caught my eye. Why? I know where the local centre is and it is only five minutes drive from my home. And because of the offer.

MOT Only £27.42 – 50% Off

Book Now To Take Advantage Of Our Exclusive Online Deal. Save Today!

The offer – MOT for only £27 and ability to book online – was too good to resist.  So I clicked on the link and ended up on a well designed-helpful web page. Here is screenshot of the middle section of this page:

HalfordsMOTBookingScreen

This one page, answered my key questions-concerns:

1. Can I book online? Yes

2. Can I make an MOT booking for today? Yes, provided there is an open slot at your chosen centre.

3. How long does it take? 45 minutes if no repairs needed, up to 60 minutes if minor repairs needed.

4. What happens if the car fails the MOT?  Most repairs can be carried out at the autocentre on the day of the MOT.

2. Purchase Phase: Booking and Paying Online

Within five minutes I had selected my local Halfords autocentre, entered the details of my wife’s car, selected the ‘MOT’ product, accessed the MOT calendar, found an empty slot for that day, booked that slot, entered my contact details, paid, got a confirmation, and printed off my the relevant documents.  Easy!

3. MOT Phase: Arrival At Local Autocentre

Five minutes before my appointed slot, I turned up at the local Halford Autocentre. Alex was on reception, he recognised me, he smiled, he welcomed me.  I did not have anything to explain as Alex had a copy of my booking.

Exactly on time, one of the mechanics showed up, took the keys and got on with testing my wife’s car; I could see exactly what was happening because the office and service bays are separated by glass.  Whilst the mechanic was conducting the test, Alex and I were catching up when he was not taking calls (from customers) or serving customers who popped in.

4. MOT Phase: Results and Departure from Local Autocentre

The forty-five minutes flew by. Alex went to talk with the mechanics. Coming back he told me that the car had ‘failed’ its MOT and there was nothing to worry about. Noticing my confusion, Alex explained that the regulations had changed and so the ‘state of wiring’ in-around the engine did not meet regulations. And there was nothing to worry about because the mechanics were tidying up the wiring – the job would be done in the next five to ten minutes.

True to his promise, within 10 minutes Alex had my MOT certificate ready. He went through it including pointing out that two tyres would need to be replaced soon. At the end of this review I was expecting to be charged for the ‘tidying up’ of the wiring. Surprise! No charge.

I thanked Alex. I thanked the mechanic who came into the office at the moment. And I wished them both a great Christmas and the very best for 2014.  What did I get in return?  An early Christmas gift. Both Alex and the mechanic said, with a certain genuineness (conveyed by the tone of their voices) “And the same to you, mate!”

What Made This Such a Great Experience?

It occurs to me that the following factors worked together to make my experience a great one:

  1. Compelling offer (price competitive MOT, online booking) that grabbed my attention

  2. Well designed MOT page that is informative, useful and usable

  3. Easy to find local Halfords autocentre, easy to search for MOT slots by day, one click booking of an empty time slot, easy payment-checkout process, online confirmation of booking, ease of printing out the paperwork.

  4. The right hand knows what the left hand is doing – in this case the local Halfords autocentre knew of my booking, had printed off the paperwork, and were expecting me.

  5. Keeping the promise – the MOT was completed within 45 minutes. And the minor repairs ‘tidying up the wiring’ in-around the engine was completed in the 5 – 10 minutes, and in any case less than the 60 minutes quoted on the website at the time of booking.

  6. A friendly face that I knew, who knew me, and who welcomed me.

  7. Generosity – the chaps at Halfords could have charged me for ‘tidying up’ the wiring. And I would have paid. They didn’t. Most importantly, they made no big deal of it. In a world where I expect to pay for everything, this generosity of spirit was and is welcome.

  8. The humanity right at the end – between myself, Alex and the mechanic. I can still hear the genuine warmth-melody of “And the same to you mate!”

And Finally

It occurs to me that:

whilst there is truth in the saying that customers don’t want relationships with companies, this truth turns out to be falsehood when it comes to the human to human level: between the customer and the employees (flesh and blood human beings) who deal with, serve, and help the customer.

great experience designers craft experiences where hi-touch integrates with and complement hi-tech; hi-tech is great for making it easy to get jobs done; hi-touch is essential for calling forth the kind of emotions that cultivate emotional bonds.

Halfords Autocentres have got it right when it comes to the MOT experience – at least in my case, for this specific experience.

Vizolution: A great way to drive sales conversions and improve the customer experience?

I have mixed relationship with corporate technology given my first hand experience of it. It is true that technology is essential and it brings many benefits. It is also true that most corporate technology is complex and expensive to set-up and operate. Last, and perhaps most important is that it does not show up as being usable nor useful to the people on the front lines that have to use the technology. Put differently, from the user perspective the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. A great example of such a technology is enterprise CRM systems. Can Vizolution prove me wrong?

I met up with Marcio Rodrigues, Customer Propositions Director, at Vizolution to learn about this technology. Here is what I learned:

  • Vizolution technology is being used by three of the top five UK banks and two of the top 5 insurance companies;
  • According to customer surveys, customers (95% of them) like the experience that is generated through Vizolution;
  • By using this technology financial services companies have increased sales conversions anywhere from 14% (mortgage conversion) to 93% (life insurance and critical illness); and
  • The folks in compliance love Vizolution as it sends/receives files using 128 bit encryption, allows complex issues to be explained properly, and enables a consistent sales process.

Ok, the banks and insurance companies like it because it improves sales conversion and improves compliance.  What I was interested in was the customer. Why do customers like it? What does Vizolution bring to the customer experience? This is what I learned:

  • By being able to see what the sales agent is talking about customers feel more engaged in the process;
  • The on screen visuals make it easier for the customer to understand the financial product being discussed; and
  • The process of signing-up for a financial product is so much easier and quicker – there is no waiting for the paperwork to arrive by post, reviewing and signing it, waiting for approval.

By now you might be wondering what is Vizolution and what does it do.  As I understand it, Vizolution:

  • Is patent pending software that allows businesses to engage their customers in sales conversations through an instant, easy, screen sharing session via the internet;
  • Is  simple and quick – with just one click the sales agent can initiate a Vizolution session and it is just as easy for the customer; and
  • bypasses the typical issues in installing screen sharing software locally and navigating around-through corporate firewalls.

My last question to Marcio was on costs: purchasing, installation, and use. What I can tell you is that the pricing showed up for me as being modest even cheap given the difference that this technology has made to sales conversion rates. At this point I could not help being a ‘strategic consultant’ and so I advised Marcio and his team to rethink the pricing!

If you want to learn more about Vizolution then I suggest that you contact Marcio. His email address is marcio.rodrigues@vizolution.co.uk

If you have used this software solution either as a manager, a sales agent or a customer then I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Please note that I am taking a holiday over August and as such I do not expect to be writing any posts until September. I thank you for reading and hope you make August a great month for yourself and all the people you ‘touch’.

Disclosure: I am happy to write about Vizolution as it occurs to me that this is a simple useful technology. I am not being paid, in any way, for writing this post. Please note that I am not promoting Vizolution and with every technology I encourage you to do your research before you buy.

WalkMe: a Great Way to Improve the User Experience and Harvest Business Benefits?

Issue: how do I do this online?

Travel is an essential part of my life as a management consultant and business advisor. Occasionally, whilst I am on my travels I get  a call from either my wife or children asking me for help on getting some task done on the web.  During these remote conversations I tend to be gripped by a sense of frustration and futility. Why? Because I get that the most effective way to help them, and not get another call, is to be by their sides guiding them through the job they want to get done online.

Solution: WalkMe?

This week I came across WalkMe and spoke with their Head of Marketing, Boaz Amidor. He tells me that the founder of WalkMe found himself in the same boat – his mother needed the help again and again – and this is what led him to create WalkeMe.

What is WalkMe™? It is an “interactive self-guidance technology that guides prospects, customers, employees or partners through any Web experience.”  As I understand it, WalkMe it sits on top of your website and as such does NOT need any integration or changes with the underlying site.

Why use it? If you use it intelligently – focussing on the scenarios/tasks that matter – then WalkMe reduces your customers’ frustration of waiting for assistance, shortens the time it takes for support personnel to handle an incoming request and strengthens your company’s support reputation. It also occurs to me that this technology can improve sales conversion as not all customers who want to buy from you call support when they cannot buy from you – some go elsewhere, I do!

How does it work?  “Through a series of interactive tip balloons overlaid on the screen, tasks are broken down into short, step-by-step guided instructions, which help customers act, react and progress during their online experience.  As a result, customer support managers can empower their customers to self-task successfully even through the most complex processes.”

You can get an introduction to WalkMe by taking a look at a short demo video: http://vimeo.com/48888010

And , you can learn more about WalkMe and even try it for free. Check out www.walkme.com

What can you expect from the WalkMe team?  Boaz Amidor told me that their customer support team is not called the customer support team, nor the customer services team.  It is called the Customer Success team. Why?  Because “The philosophy here is to make sure that our team is committed to the success of the customer. WalkMe brings the value and our team is here to ensure the success.”  I say that this resonates with my idea of service.

About WalkMe

WalkMe was founded in 2011, has offices in San Francisco and Tel Aviv.  It is funded by  Mangrove Capital Partners, Giza Venture Capital and Gemini Funds.

WalkMe recently WON the Red Herring Top 100 Award.  Alex Vieux, publisher and CEO of Red Herring, said the following regarding WalkMe’s win: “We looked at hundreds and hundreds of candidates from all across the continent, and after much thought and debate, narrowed the list down to the Top 100 Winners. Each year, the competition gets tougher but we believe WalkMe demonstrates the vision, drive and innovation that define a Red Herring winner.”

WalkMe has been included in the list of “Cool Vendors” in the “Cool Vendors” in the CRM Customer Service and Social 2013″ by Gartner.

You Should Know

I am not a fan of complex technology, I have grappled with it (MIS, ERP, CRM, e-commerce) and it tends to be hard work to implement, and it rarely generates the promised benefits.

I am a fan of simple technologies that are easy to implement, simplify-enrich lives, and create value.  This is how WalkMe showed up for me this week and this is why I agreed to write this post.

I am not being paid, in any shape or form, for writing this post.  Or any other post that I have written to date. My commitment is to write from a context of service.

As with everything I write, I urge you to “try things out AND do your homework”.

Customer-Centric Leadership: What Can We Learn From Jeff Bezos?

Jeff Bezos and Amazon have been in the news courtesy of Bezos latest letter to shareholders. If you have any interest in what constitutes a customer-centric orientation then I throughly recommend that you print out this letter and read it. If you are up for creating a customer-centric organisation then I recommend that you read this letter every day.

Annette Franz on Jeff Bezos and Customer Experience

Annette Franz over at CX Journey has a written an enthusiastic post referring to Jeff Bezos as a CX dream come true!. I recommend reading it, and I share one particular part of her post with you:

As a leader, Mr. Bezos shows that he’s both the customer and the employee champion. Reading through the 2012 letter again, the following traits and qualities come to mind – all of which are certainly descriptive of a customer-centric culture:

  • Trust
  • Transparency
  • Best interest of customers
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Not being opportunistic
  • Customers ahead of shareholders
  • Innovation
  • Passionate
  • Humble
  • Proactive
  • Delight

Do any of those describe your organization’s values and culture?

Bruce Temkin on Amazon and the customer-centric blueprint

Bruce Temkin says that Bezos letter describes Amazon’s customer-centric blueprint.  Bruce picks up on Bezos strategy of making investments and sacrifices today (to benefit customers) knowing that some of these will pay of in the long term.  There is one particular paragraph from Bruce’s post that I share with you here as I say it goes to the heart of the customer-centric orientation (bolding is my work):

Bezos understands the value of Amazon’s most critical asset, customer loyalty, which I’ve defined as the willingness to consider, trust, and forgive. That focus is what put Amazon.com on the top of the retail sector in the 2013 Temkin Experience RatingsGreat leaders focus on building that customer loyalty asset with the knowledge that it will generate the best returns for all stakeholders in the long run.

My take on Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the customer-centric orientation

I say that the core of authentic customer-centricity is a relentless ongoing commitment to creating compelling value for customers. What does Jeff Bezos say?  Here is an extract from his 1997 letter (highlighting is my work):

From the beginning, our focus has been on offering our customers compelling value….. we set out to offer customers something they simply could not get any other way, and began serving them with books. We brought them much more selection than was possible in a physical store, and presented it in a useful, easy-to-search, and easy-to-browse format in a store open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. We maintained a dogged focus on improving the shopping experience, and in 1997 substantially enhanced our store. We now offer customers gift certificates, 1-ClickSM shopping, and vastly more reviews, content, browsing options, and recommendation features. We dramatically lowered prices, further increasing customer value. 

But we are not in 1997 and Amazon is now the gorilla of the online space not an upstart, a revolutionary.  So lets take a look at the present situation.  I say the real test of authentic customer-centricity is what you do when you have arrived, when you dominate the marketplace.  I have worked with many large successful organisations. Again and again I have seen these organisations ‘squeeze’ the customer and take ‘advantage’ of the customer’s trust or the customers weakness to maximise profits.  Has Amazon fallen into this trap?  Here are two paragraphs from the April 2013 letter:

When you pre-order something from Amazon, we guarantee you the lowest price offered by us between your order time and the end of the day of the release date…….. Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust.

In 2012, AWS [Amazon Web Services] announced 159 new features and services……. AWS Trusted Advisor monitors customer configurations, compares them to known best practices, and then notifies customers where opportunities exist to improve performance, enhance security, or save money. Yes, we are actively telling customers they’re paying us more than they need to. In the last 90 days, customers have saved millions of dollars through Trusted Advisor, and the service is only getting started. All of this progress comes in the context of AWS being the widely recognized leader in its area – a situation where you might worry that external motivation could fail. On the other hand, internal motivation – the drive to get the customer to say “Wow” – keeps the pace of innovation fast.

Why has Amazon bucked the trend here?  Why is Amazon not exploiting its dominant position?  Why is Amazon not extracting value from its customer relationships to maximise short-term profits and drive up the share price?

My answer is that Bezos is not playing the profit maximisation game.  I say that he is playing “maximise service not profits” game and as such he has built a culture and management doctrine that drives the appropriate thinking and behaviour.  Here’s what Jeff Bezos say in his l2013 letter:

One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader.

I say there is value in simplicity. I say that there is value in exceeding customer expectations. I say that one of the best ways of exceeding customer expectations is to give customers more than they expect. I say that customers expect companies to play dirty and take advantage. I say a sure route to delighting customers is not to do this and instead treat people right.  What does Jeff Bezos say?

To me, trying to dole out improvements in a just-in-time fashion would be too clever by half. It would be risky in a world as fast-moving as the one we all live in. More fundamentally, I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.

In amidst all this content it is easy to miss what really matters: the context.  So let’s just take a look at the context.  Between the 1997 letter and the 2013 letter, a span of 15+ years, there has been consistency:

  • Leadership: Jeff Bezos continues to be in charge
  • Focus: creating compelling value for customers
  • Strategy: take calculated risks, innovate, invest today to create value for customers and look for payoff in terms of customer loyalty and market leadership in the longer run
  • Management doctrine: the fundamental pillars of the management doctrine are set-out in the 1997 letter.