3 lessons from a customer-obsessed company

Last week, I attended a fascinating talk about Customer Obsession given by Kim Rachmeler at version one’s portfolio company, Frontdesk. Kim spent 10 years at Amazon.com, where she served as VP of Worldwide Customer Service, CIO International, among several other critical roles.

While it’s no secret that Amazon.com is a customer-centric company, Kim shared a few interesting insights into the role of customer service at Amazon. In particular, I took away three key points:

1. Empower customer service to do whatever is best for the customer:

Customer service is a company’s direct link to the customer, yet in many organizations, customer service is positioned as a “reactive” department – just there to field queries and complaints. At Amazon.com, customer service has the ability to take a product out of catalogue if they see it doesn’t meet customer expectations. The merchandising manager then needs to fix the product before it can be returned to the catalogue.

2. Focus on a simple measure of customer service quality:

Amazon.com includes the question “Was this answer helpful?” at the end of every email that gets sent out. This question focuses the entire team on a single, one-dimensional metric. And the simplicity of the question means that more customers are likely to answer, providing feedback from more customers than trying to get responses from a lengthy survey.

3. Drive customer service into the whole company:

At AbeBooks, we had everybody work in customer service from time to time and Amazon.com has a similar policy (although given the sheer size of Amazon, they need to limit the program to just managers). Having everyone wear the customer service hat accomplishes two things: 1) Participants get reconnected to customers and actual customer needs and 2) Managers view customer service as an important source of knowledge about customers.

In a customer obsessed organization, customer service isn’t viewed as a cost center or simply measured on a P&L report. Customers are valuable assets, and each interaction is an opportunity to improve not only that relationship, but improve your product, processes, and company mission.

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