Business Today

'It's Still Day 1...'

Working backwards from customer needs is key to True Customer Obsession.
Amit Agarwal | Print Edition: January 14, 2018
'It's Still Day 1...'
Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Head, Amazon India (Photo: Vivan Mehra)

This is something we keep reminding ourselves at Amazon, every day. In his latest shareholder letter, Jeff Bezos talks about an interesting incident at the company all-hands meeting, when he was asked what Day 2 looks like.

"Day 2 is static. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1."

The answer purposefully paints a gloomy self-fulfilling downward spiral, a stark contrast with the energy of a culture that is constantly innovating on behalf of customers. Fortunately, the letter goes on to offer a starter kit to retain the "Day 1" spirit, and provides a powerful lesson for all of us - True Customer Obsession is essential to ensure that it always remains Day 1. We have taken this to heart at as we work hard to transform how India buys and sells, and thereby transform lives.

I have been very fortunate to be part of Amazon for nearly 19 years of my career, and observe closely the evolution of an organisation that not only aspires to be Earth's most customer-centric company, but also puts it in action with a culture that obsesses with customers. There are a few peculiar aspects of our approach that could offer guiding principles to practise True Customer Obsession.

Work Customer-backwards: A key first step towards building a culture centered on customer obsession is to work backwards from customer needs. At Amazon, we have a peculiar mechanism called 'working backwards' that ensures this is more than a good intention. When we have a new idea, the first artefact we create is a customer-facing press release with answers to the questions a customer might have on reading it to convince ourselves that they really care about the idea as much. This is different from a more traditional approach of writing the press release in the end to convince the customer, which in our belief is actually backwards.

Focus on Controllable Inputs: It pays to invest an inordinate amount of energy in identifying things your customers deeply care about, that you can control, and that don't change over time. For example, at Amazon, we believe customers globally are similar when it comes to the most important experience drivers - vast selection, low prices and fast delivery. Focussing disproportionate energy on these critical customer experience drivers (or what we internally refer to as customer inputs) yields dividends for many years to come.

Have a high bar for customer experience: At Amazon, we remain paranoid that customers will come to us only until the very moment they find a better experience elsewhere. You owe it to your customers to be laser focussed on their experience, by continuously measuring your customer inputs and improving them every day.

Think Long Term: While we are tactically impatient to improve customer experience, we are willing to be strategically patient in inventing on their behalf for the long term. You should be willing to fail and be relentless as you plant seeds and innovate on behalf of your customers.

Invent on Behalf of Customers: We start with what the customer needs and work backwards to invent on their behalf. You surely need mechanisms to actively listen to the voice of your customers, be inspired, and drive continuous improvements in their experience. At the same time, customers will not be able to tell everything and would rely on you to anticipate their needs and invest boldly. This is key to transforming the customer experience. Our investments in Kindle are a great example.

Prime, for instance, was originally conceived as a convenience programme - making it easier for customers to get products fast, but it is so much more today. It is a one-of-a-kind, digital-physical hybrid that allows members to unlock innovations and experiences from across our Amazon businesses; it is something that becomes a part of members' daily lives. Despite the challenges to implement Prime at the precision and scale that is needed for its success, month-over-month and year-over-year, we continue to invest in it because it is hugely relevant and beneficial to customers.

Closer home, Amazon is leveraging India's local ecosystems through innovations like 'I Have Space' (to expand the last-mile delivery network) and 'Udaan' (that enables customers with limited access to the digital ecosystem, to benefit from the ease of access and convenience that e-commerce provides). Seller-focussed innovations like Easy Ship and Seller Flex have been built grounds-up to solve shipping constraints and inventory management challenges that sellers face. Similarly, the India team has built a lighter version of the shopping app called Micron for low-end smartphones, and to solve connectivity issues.

A lot more innovation, than what we have seen so far, is ahead of us. It is truly Day 1 for customer experience in India, and for the right organisations it should always be Day 1.

By Amit Agarwal, SVP and Country Head, Amazon India


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