Amazon leadership principles

Amazon Leadership Principles: The Best Service Is No Service

The first Amazon Leadership Principle is “customer obsession,” but how the company achieves that principle may surprise you.

In early 1999, Bill Price sat across from Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Amazon, then still a fledgling startup, was looking for its first Vice President of Global Customer Service.

Bezos asked a simple question: “What is your definition of customer service?”

Price responded, “The best service is no service.”

He got the job.

It’s no secret that Bezos always prioritized customer service as an Amazon Leadership Principle. In fact, he even left a chair empty at executive meetings to represent the customer. But curiously, it took Amazon several years to even build out a customer service organization.

That’s because Bezos believed the customer experience should be so frictionless that customers wouldn’t need support. Unfortunately, that was overly optimistic.

In an interview, Price told Shep Hyken that Bezos never anticipated customers calling Amazon because they would handle everything online. But customers found the number for Amazon’s headquarters and the calls started flooding in. Amazon had to install an automated call distributor to route calls, and they had to build out a proper customer service organization.

Which is how Price ended up at the helm of customer service.

Price remained at Amazon for only a couple of years, but in that short time, he built out what is now a world-famous customer service organization. He’s gone on to write and speak about his experience at Amazon. His first book was called, appropriately enough, The Best Customer Service Is No Service, co-authored with David Jaffe.

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1. Make every contact with your company “smart”

There are three types of customer support interactions that your company can avoid:

  • Contacts that shouldn’t be needed: Inquiries you receive because the company has caused confusion, missed deadlines, or sold a bad product.
  • Repeat contacts: When a customer has to repeatedly contact your company to get a problem resolved.
  • Simple questions: Straightforward bits of information you didn’t make accessible enough, like “When is the payment due,” or “What is my balance?”

The other points we’ll cover will address how to prevent many of these contacts entirely, but here are some key bits:

  • Identify every reason customers contact support.
  • Establish internal systems to make improvements that proactively address those customer complaints.
  • Automate away as many of those contacts as possible.
  • Improve customer support training, so problems are resolved with the first contact.

Every customer service contact should be “smart,” in that it couldn’t have been avoided otherwise.

2. Help customers help themselves

When most people think about automated customer service, they probably shiver because they imagine a clunky and confusing phone menu or an unhelpful chatbot. That wouldn’t meet the Amazon Leadership Principle of “customer obsession.”

But whether you realize it or not, you use automated customer service systems all the time, and you probably love them. If you’ve ever canceled an order at Amazon or returned a package to them, you never once had to speak to a human being. You can request a cancellation or a return any time of day with only a few clicks or taps. Plus, you have a printable verification of the request. When done right, self-service options put you in control.

There are three keys to creating thrilling self-service options. The first is to make it so the customer can interact with your company any way they like, whether that’s an automated system, email, live chat, a phone call, or a mix of all of those options.

The second is to make self-service options that are usable and customer oriented. Build interfaces with the customer and not the company in mind. Keep customer behavior in mind, observe customer behavior after deploying, and continually listen to user feedback.

The third is to integrate your channels so they work seamlessly. Train your customer support teams on the self-service options, and incentivize them to promote them to customers.

“Customers will love and embrace self-service if companies get it right. Just look at the success of online retailers or Internet banking and ATMs. They are getting great results and have raised the bar for other organizations.”

Bill Price and David Jaffe

3. Be proactive when possible

Ward off customer service requests by anticipating customer needs and addressing them in advance.

For instance, when a package is running late, Amazon sends you a notification letting you know with an updated delivery date. This benefits both Amazon and you, the customer:

  • You know what’s going on, when to expect the package, and—perhaps most importantly—you know Amazon is on it.
  • Amazon doesn’t have to field a customer service request.
  • Plus, you, the customer, don’t have to spend time contacting customer support.

Being proactive is a 360-win for everyone involved.

“Being proactive produces other important value for companies, such as ‘Wow, you remembered,’ and ‘They’re taking care of me, so why should I take my business elsewhere,’ both solid marketing and top-line benefits. Few customers are going to shop around or accept an offer after a positive experience they were not expecting.”

Bill Price and David Jaffe

4. Make it easy for customers to contact you

Many companies go out of their way to hide their contact information, with the mistaken and self-serving assumption that if they’re hard to contact, they won’t have as many customer service requests.

But the reality is that this is counterproductive:

  • Your customers will still have issues, you will just be less aware of them.
  • Customers will find ways to contact you—see Amazon’s example.
  • Potential customers may be less likely to buy because your inaccessible customer support causes anxiety.

Making your customer service team hard to reach is like putting on a blindfold before going for a drive, so you’re completely unaware of any dangers. It’s like the peril-sensitive sunglasses from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series:

​​“Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble, they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.” — Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Don’t deliberately blind your business. Instead, open the floodgates and interact with your customers.

5. Own your company’s actions

Jocko Willink—a Navy SEAL turned online influencer—talks about “extreme ownership.” In other words, you take personal responsibility for everything that happens in your life. That also applies in business—ownership is an Amazon Leadership Principle.

Don’t leave your customer service reps helpless on the front lines taking hits for problems inside the organization. Figure out who’s responsible and fix it! Are customers losing packages? Look into your logistics. Excessive returns? Find out why. Are they placing orders accidentally? Look at your user interface. Is the product unsatisfactory? Look into it.

At the same time, you must empower your customer service team to solve problems. If a customer wants a refund, don’t make customer support go up the chain to do it, just let them issue the refunds. Empower your customer service team and they’ll be happier—because they can actually solve customer problems—and your customers will be delighted.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss explains how he greatly reduced the number of emails he received from his customer support reps when he empowered them to do whatever it took to make a customer happy as long as it cost $100 or less. Ferriss is also a TextExpander user, so he knows a thing or two about productivity.

Apple gives its rank-and-file employees a lot of leeway when addressing customer complaints. Stories abound about a customer walking in with a problem and either getting a free repair or a new device. That has helped build Apple’s overwhelming customer loyalty.

6. Listen to your customers

It seems so obvious, but many companies don’t want to talk to their customers—as evidenced by companies that try to hide their contact information. This isn’t just a grave disservice to the customer, it’s a disservice to the business.

Your customers will tell you what you need to improve, whether it’s your interface, messaging, support, or execution. Your customers may also prove to be your best source of new ideas. They’ll also tell you about their favorite features, which may be different from what you think your best features are.

Here at ​​TextExpander, we regularly seek out opportunities to interview customers, and every time we do, we learn something new about the product.

“There is no excuse for companies not to listen. No additional investment in customer research is required; companies will obtain huge insight from the contacts they are getting today. They need, first, to be prepared to listen. Then they need to apply the techniques that allow them to tap into all the free or cheap forms of feedback that their customers and staff can provide.

“Listening is not the end game, however…Many companies are stuck today in a cycle of measurement that doesn’t drive action. Companies that are service leaders use these sources of feedback to drive continuous improvement. They build it into the fabric of how the business runs.”

Bill Price and David Jaffe

7. Use the right metrics to deliver amazing customer experiences

Every business collects and measures metrics, but often they’re the wrong ones. For instance, many customer service teams rate reps based on how many queries they’ve fielded. But that’s not really a useful metric. Instead, measure metrics that customers will care about:

  • Was their problem solved?
  • Was it solved in one interaction?
  • Were they satisfied with the outcome?

See Understanding the Importance of Call Center Metrics for Improved Customer Service for key stats to measure to gauge your customer service team’s performance.

Try TextExpander yourself with a 30-day free trial and discover what TextExpander can do for you and your team. When you’re ready, contact our sales team to supercharge your support team. Team-based pricing starts as low as $8.33 per user per month.