Hall of Fame: Amazon Delights Cultivating Loyalty From This Customer

Amazon claims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.  If Amazon were like just about every other company this claim would be just a marketing slogan – deceitful, empty at best. However, Amazon isn’t like just about every other company.  It’s exceptional in that the folks at Amazon get what it takes to cultivate, keep, even grow that particular emotional bond, which I say lies at the heart of loyalty, with customers.  Of what do I speak?  Allow me to share my story with you.

During December 17 I bought presents, some of them from Amazon.  One of the presents was electric toothOralB Smart4 4000Nbrush for my oldest son.  Whilst my son can do with a new toothbrush he doesn’t want this one. He didn’t even open the packaging. He Googled it and found that it’s not the most expensive one.  So the task of returning it fell to me.  And as I have returned stuff to Amazon before I was expecting it to be straight forward: click on order, select item to return, print out return labels, and drop-off at local post office.

To my surprise it didn’t turn out that way.  I found myself annoyed and angry: why isn’t Amazon allowing me to return an item which is within the return period, and which hasn’t even been taken out of its packaging?  What kind of sh**t is this!  That was my emotional state especially as Amazon didn’t tell me why I wasn’t allowed to return it. I was asked to click a link which took me to a return (home) page which I found unusable – as it wasn’t evident which item on that long menu (of items) I should click.

When I know I’m in the right I tend to be dogged in pursuit of my goal. Luckily, Amazon, offered me the ability/opportunity to speak to an agent.  So when option 1 (looking at the Returns page) didn’t work out, I selected option 2 (live chat with an agent).

“Why are you not allowing me to return this given it is well within the return period, never used, not even taken out of its packaging?”  That was the starting point of the chat. Once, I provided order details and specified the item, the agent told me to give her a minute or two to look into the matter.

Have you had the experience of jaw dropping moments?  The first one occurred when Amazon (website) told me that I couldn’t return this item. The second one occurred when the agent came back with “We’ll refund you for the item and you can keep the item – no need to return it. Is that OK?”  My experience?  “Shocked. Delighted. Grateful. Puzzled. What the fork is happening here?”

My response to that agent was along this line: “I’ve been an Amazon customer for a long time. I buy regularly. And Amazon has always been fair to me.  I wish to be fair with Amazon.  Honest, the toothbrush has NOT been used. It’s not even been taken out of its packaging. I am happy to return it so that you can resell it.”

The agent’s response? “We’re happy for you to keep the toothbrush and to give you the refund you have asked for……”  I had another go at returning the toothbrush. She wasn’t having any of it.  I relented. And something was present that I needed to express. What was present?  Gratitude!  How did I express this gratitude?  I asked the agent to give me the refund as an Amazon gift card rather than a refund on my credit card.  She asked “Are you sure?” and I replied something to the effect: “Yes, I’m sure: I was brought up to reciprocate – to repay helpfulness/kindness with helpfulness/kindness.”

Please get that I am fortunate.  The monetary value of this toothbrush is pennies. I will go and spend double-treble this amount taking out an acquaintance (dying of liver cancer) for lunch in an hour or so. And I am so grateful – so grateful!  Grateful for what?  Grateful for the way I was treated.  Think about how I was treated.  How often are you/me treated in this way?  It’s rare isn’t it?  To be able, easily, to get through to someone helpful. For that person to, swiftly, get you/me to our desired outcome. And then on top of that be given a gift.  Wow!

So here I am on my Sunday doing that which occurs to me as the final act of paying Amazon back for its helpfulness / generosity.  That’s the power of cultivating gratitude by treating customers (employees, suppliers, distribution partners…) right.

I leave you with this question:  Is the way that Amazon shows up and behaves towards its customers (decency, fair treatment) rocket science?  No?  Then why is it that other organisations don’t show up in this manner?  Is it because those who lead/direct/manage these organisations lack heart?  Or is it that these folks are self-centred and only focussed on the short-term – this quarter/year’s results?  How the fork is technology (CRM, CX, digital commerce…) going to do the job of the heart – having/putting into play a big heart?

Thanks for your listening to my speaking.  I wish you the very best for this year – may it be the best year, yet, of your existence.  Until the next time….

Maz Signature

Generating Customer Loyalty Through The Experience Not The Program

First and foremost I thank each and everyone who continues to listen the speaking that occurs on this blog.  A special appreciation for those of you who make the time to add your voice to the conversation by commenting. I wish each of you the very best for this year – may this year be the best year of your lives.

Today, I’m up for grappling with the subject of customer loyalty as I have been immersed it it since the second half of 2016 – professionally as a consultant and personally as a customer.

What Are We Talking About When We Talk Customer Loyalty?

Before diving in, let’s stop and really think about what we are talking about when we talk loyalty. According to Wikipedia:

Loyalty is devotion and faithfulness to a cause, country, group, or person. Philosophers disagree on what can be an object of loyalty as some argue that loyalty is strictly interpersonal and only another human being can be the object of loyalty.

So customer loyalty, viewed in light of this definition, is about generating devotion and faithfulness to a company and/or its brands.

Is it possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation?

I can read that which the Guardian newspaper publishes online for free. Yet, I took up the Guardian’s request to pay a fee and become a Guardian member. Why pay for something that I can get free? Because, I find myself in tune with the journalism/editorial values of this newspaper. And I wish to ensure its health so that it can continue to do that which it does.

Football fans.  There are folks (customers) who spend significant amounts of time and money to travel up and down the country in order to watch/support their football team. Their devotion isn’t limited to buying tickets / watching the games. These customers also tend to be the one’s that buy the club’s merchandise and proudly display it.

Then there is Apple – clearly there are many who have been devoted and faithful to the Apple brand through good times, difficult times, great times….

So the answer to the question is yes – it is possible to generate devotion and faithfulness to a commercial organisation.

Are Loyalty Programs The Way to Customer Loyalty?

Recently, I found water pouring through the ceiling of the room below the main bathroom upstairs.  Fortunately this matter was covered by home insurance. The claims folks were helpful and appointed a contractor to replace the ceiling, strip the wallpaper and put the room back into the state it was before the damage occurred.

Unfortunately for me and my family the contractor appointed to carry out the repair work did the work in a slapdash manner.  So I raised the matter with the insurance company and told them I did not want this contractor to do the repairs in the upstairs bathroom. Ongoing, I may name and shame at a later point in time.

Who to use to do the work on the upstairs bathroom?  When faced with this question the immediate answer was the contractor that had carried out work on my home in 2014 when a car had driven into the front wall.  Why this contractor?  Because this contractor did such a professional job: upfront work of scoping and detailing the work; organising the work so that the right tradesmen turned up at the right time/sequence; adhering to the schedule of work; doing a great job of the job to be done; and providing a 2 year guarantee.

So it was the experience of dealing with this contractor including and especially the quality of their work -start to finish – that made me remember them some 3 years later and turn to them.  Not because of any loyalty program.

Back to football clubs and their devoted/faithful customers – the fans. Turns out that collect points and cash them in for rewards type of loyalty programs don’t work. Why not? That is not how a fan (loyal customer) thinks of loyalty. How does such a fan think? Something along the lines of “Remember me. Occasionally, offer me a free drink at your bar and/or invite me in to meet members of the team / club.”  What kind of loyalty is this? The human kind – the kind that the human race has known / practiced for many years. The kind that has allowed human tribes to face obstacles, together, and flourish.

Conclusion: Genuine Loyalty is Built Through the Experience Not the Program

Quality. You can build quality into the production process. Or you can employ quality inspectors to find defective products at the end of the production line.  And/or customer services folks to deal with the complaints arising from poor quality products.

It occurs to me it is the same with customer loyalty.  You can either build loyalty into the way that you do business – product, marketing, sales, logistics, service etc – or you can setup customer loyalty programmes to compensate your customers for the defects in the quality of customer’s experience of your products, your services, your organisation.  And/or your failure to adequately differentiate yourself from your competitors.

I say that the smarter way is to build loyalty into the way that you do business such that no customer loyalty program is necessary to keep your customers coming back to you:

-For Apple this means regularly creating cool/useful products/services that nobody else provides and marketing them in the Apple manner.

-For Amazon it means continuing to do that which Amazon does so well: being easy to do business with, delivering the goods the next day or two, keeping customers informed, and importantly looking out for the customer in multiple ways.

-For the Guardian newspaper it means standing for the causes that matter to the kind of people who are Guardian readers.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….





Integrity: Is This Why Apple, John Lewis, and Amazon are Masters of the Customer Experience?

Apple, John Lewis, Amazon: Masters of the Customer Experience?

Christmas is over and three organisations stand out for me: Apple, John Lewis, and Amazon. Why? It occurs to me that the people in these organisations get customers as human beings, are clear about the kind of customer experience they are up for delivering, AND have put in place a system for delivering this kind of customer experience.

On Integrity and the Customer Experience

Integrity is essential to performance. Breakdowns in integrity will generate breakdowns in performance. Breakthroughs in integrity will generated breakthroughs in performance.  If your organisations defines performance as cultivating meaningful relations with customers through the right customer experience then integrity determines the quality of the customer experience.

It occurs to me that when I am talking about integrity I am pointing at a state of being, an outcome, and a system.  Let’s consider these in turn.  

  1.  What do I mean when I say ‘integrity as a state of being’? By this I mean the way of showing up in the world.  Specifically, I mean a way of showing up in the world where you are committed to emboding-living your word.  Can we call this an embodied attitude?  The outer manifestation of an inner stand-commitment.

  2. ‘Integrity as an outcome’ occurs for me as delivering on the promises made. There are two dimensions here: the promises made to oneself, and the promises made to the others. Integrity as an outcome is measurable – you did or did not deliver on your promise. If you are in any doubt about whether you delivered on the promise then ask your ‘customer’ – the person who is holding you to account for the promise (implicit, explicit) you made.

  3. When I speak ‘integrity as a system’, I am pointing at the parts and the interconnectedness of the parts, so as to come together as one harmonious system whose default disposition is to deliver on the promises made.

When I look at Customer Experience through the lens of integrity, it occurs to me that the real measure of one’s integrity as a state of being (point 1 above) is what one does and continues to do is to put in place ‘integrity as a system’ (point 3 above) so as to deliver ‘integrity as an outcome’ (point 2 above).

What is the Learning Here?

It is not enough to want. It is not enough to believe. It is not enough to have good intentions.  It is not enough to talk fine words.  What really matters is the design of the system.  When you take a look at the system that generates outcomes you will find that all human systems lack integrity; at the level of the person, the family, the organisation, the community, the nation and even the world what there is is the lack of integrity.  It occurs to me that the lack of integrity is the default condition – it is what shows up automatically. I see it as the principle of entropy at play in the human world.

It occurs to me that the reason that the likes of Amazon, Apple, and John Lewis stand out in terms of the Customer Experience is because the people in these organisations, starting at the very top, get the importance of integrity especially ‘integrity as a system’. And as such there is  relentlessness in enhancing ‘integrity as a system’ at levels of their organisations: individuals, teams, functions, channels, business units, the organisation, the organisation and its suppliers, the organisation and its partners, the organisation and its customers…..

Why is it that so few organisations excel in the way that Amazon, Apple and John Lewis excel? Because it takes genuine commitment, relentless focus and lots of hard work to put together and keep up integrity at the level of organisation.

Related posts:

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012? Start with ‘Integrity’

‘Integrity’, leadership, communication and performance: the most valuable post you will read this year?

Has the lack of ‘Integrity’ and authentic leadership comprimised the ‘workability’ and performance of the West?

Without Integrity, Is Talk of Customer Focus Just Cheap Talk?

The Power of Essential Integrity In A World Where Integrity is Lacking



Who Are the UK’s 2013 Customer Experience Leaders And What Can We Learn From Them? (Part 2)

This post continues the conversation started in the earlier post which disclosed the UK’s Top 10 Customer Experience brands and provided an analysis of the Top 100 brands by industry.

Nunwood’s Six Pillars of Customer Experience

The folks at Nunwood claim “we have used advanced text analytic techniques to derive and then statistically validate the six most important factors that customers talk about when it comes to great experiences”.  What are these factors?

Personalisation: using individualised attention to drive emotional engagement

Time & Effort: valuing the customers time – minimising the effort and creating frictionless processes

Expectations: managing, meeting and exceeding customer expectations

Integrity: being trustworthy and engendering trust

Resolution: turning a poor customer experience into a great one

Empathy: achieving an understanding of the customer’s circumstances to drive deep rapport

What can we learn about these six pillars of Customer Experience by looking at the Top 10 brands?

In their report Nunwood list the top brands by each of the Customer Experience pillars. So:

  • Amazon sits at the very top for the Personalisation and Time & Effort pillars;
  • Virgin Atlantic is the leader in the Expectations pillar;
  • John Lewis leads when it comes to the Integrity pillar; and
  • QVC leads in both the Resolution and Empathy pillars.

What is not easy to do, from the report, is to see at one glance what each of the Top 10 brands does in terms of these six pillars. So I have taken some time to piece that together for you and here it is:

Top10 CEE Six Pillars Analysis

Coming Next

In the next and last post, I will share with you details of the “brands that have cracked the code” and are making major leaps forward – according to Nunwood. And in particular I will single out one brand that shows up for as being truly innovative in its business model, in customer engagement, in being social and making online community work, in putting its customers truly at the centre of its way of doing business.  I also happen to be a customer of this brand.

The Power of Essential Integrity In A World Where Integrity Is Lacking

You are most effective when you act out of essential human values. When you behave with integrity, you use the challenges in your life to express your higher self. You might not always achieve success, but you can always behave honourably……

Essential integrity allow you to develop strength, inner peace, and self confidence. It acts like a climbing harness, catching you when the challenges of the world prove too arduous. When you trust this harness, you feel more enthusiasm and less fear during the climb.

Essential integrity provides the secret to achieving happiness in a world where you will inevitably end up losing all your possessions – even your life and the lives of those you love.

– Fred Kofman, Conscious Business

I say that essential integrity is also the access to living the brand promise, treating employees and customer right, and cultivating enduring-meaningful relationships with all stakeholders including customers. Think Amazon. What does Amazon do amazingly well? Live the Amazon mission (of being the Earth’s most customer-centric company) by keeping its promises to its customers.

I thank you for listening to my speaking. I am grateful that you exist and that in your listening my speaking finds fertile soil. I thank you for reaching out to me and letting me know that my speaking, my existence makes a difference to your existence. What is present between me and you is love.

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.

When is it appropriate to favour the customer experience over profits?

Harley Manning: You should never put the customer experience ahead of profits

According to Harley Manning of Forrester, the answer to the question “When should you favor customer experience over profits?” is “Never!  In his post Harley recounts the following:

After some preamble about the pressures his company was under to increase revenue and profits, he asked, “Given that, when should we put aside the need for profits and fund customer experience projects instead?”

His question surprised me. And I clearly surprised him when I responded, “Never.” I let that hang in the air for a moment so it could sink in. Then I added, “You should never put aside the need for profits when you fund customer experience projects.”

I could see that people were a little confused so I went on. “You should only fund customer experience projects that will produce profits. That’s why you do those projects in the first place. And if you have other kinds of projects that will produce better business results, do them instead. But if you take the time to create the business models for your CX projects you’ll probably find that they’ll produce better ROI than most of the initiatives they’re competing against.”

Does Jeff Bezos agree with Harley Manning’s take on customer experience and profits?

As soon as I read this post by Harley Manning the following thought came to mind: what about Jeff Bezos and Amazon?  It occurred to me that Jeff Bezos has consistently sacrificed short-term profits in order to attain the long term leadership.  And how has he gone about attaining that leadership? By focussing on creating compelling value for the customer.  And what is a key ingredient of this compelling value?  The customer experience.

If you doubt my words then read the following post: 6 Things Jeff Bezos Knew Back in 1997 That Made Amazon a Gorilla.  Here is one particularly relevant part of this post:

Bezos: It does fit into my view. Our first shareholder letter, in 1997, was entitled, “It’s all about the long term.” If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details.

In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. Ebooks had to happen. Infrastructure web services had to happen. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.

When is it appropriate to favour the customer experience over profits? 

There is no simple answer to this question. Why?  First, one has to be clear that there are all kinds of profits.  There are this years profits. There are the profits that will be made in the next three years. And if you are Jeff Bezos you are thinking about the profits that will be made over the next seven years. If you are Toyota you might just be looking out 20+years.

Second, there is the matter of what falls under the umbrella term of ‘Customer Experience’.  Some, possibly like Harley Manning, see it simply as customer interaction management – how the customer is treated at various touchpoints along the customer journey.  Others, like me, include the brand (as in reputation not marketing messaging) and the core product under the Customer Experience umbrella.

Where do I stand on this?  My answer is “It depends!” What does it depend upon?  It depends on you and your circumstances. Do you have the leeway to play the long-term game?  Then I say make the short-term sacrifice and go for long-term market leadership.  If you do not have that leeway then you have to follow Harley Manning’s advice.  And in doing so you will leave open the door to the likes of Jeff Bezos – the disruptors. Which is great because progress relies on disruptors to shaky up things up and create ‘new value’ for customers.