In Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ own words, the number one thing that has contributed to the company’s success is an “obsessive compulsive focus on the customer.” In fact, customer obsession is one of Amazon’s stated leadership principles, along with this quote:
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Bezos even went so far as to establish the “empty chair” policy for all company meetings at Amazon, meaning that one chair at the table is left open to remind attendees that the customer should always be part of the conversation. Makes you wonder if that applies to Zoom meetings, also…
Here’s the real question: Other than the fact that Amazon is one of the world’s most successful companies, what motivation do other brands have to become customer-obsessed? Isn’t it just one of many strategies a business could adopt? The answer requires a deeper dive into what the concept really implies.
Customer obsession goes beyond customer focus. Gibson Biddle wrote a long blog post explaining what that means after serving as VP of another market-leading, customer-obsessed digital company — Netflix. You can read that article here, but in a nutshell, “obsession” equates to always being a step ahead, and the way to accomplish it is through using digital customer insights to continuously improve the customer experience.
Customer experience is what differentiates brands from one another — and what catapults some to the top. McDonald’s took the restaurant world by storm in the 1950s when it offered a new experience that customers didn’t even know they wanted in the form of standardization. Likewise, Disney may be best known for its studio creations, but its theme parks — and the hyper-engineered customer experience they offer– remain a massive source of revenue for the company.
Today — especially in the digital realm — data is what informs the customer experience. The experience that results from Amazon’s customer obsession is radically easy online shopping, and from Netflix’s customer obsession, the most successful VOD business model ever created. Similar statements could be made with regard to companies such as Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber.
To recap, customer experience is your competitive advantage, and that experience is analyzed, understood, and honed through data.
Why Your Data Isn’t Translating to Competitive Advantage
Most companies already have all the data they need in order to understand and improve the customer experience, but only a handful are competing for substantial market share in their respective industries. I’ve got the data, you might be thinking, and I care deeply about my customers … so what am I missing?
Looking at the companies listed above, it’s not the data they have access to that sets them apart, it’s how they use it. Here’s how you could think about it: When you are customer-focused, you understand the value of data, and every team in your organization uses analytics to parse through the problems customers are experiencing at various touchpoints. Their perspective is then centered around those analytics — but not around the customer. Add to this the fact that oftentimes teams are also weighed down by a myriad of other business KPIs, and we can see how easy it is for the focus to drift further and further from where it should be — the customer.
When Bezos and Biddle talk about customer obsession, what they’re really referring to is the ability to break down those information silos and point the entire organization through the unified lens of the customer. Instead of allowing meetings, marketing, and product development to be based around disparate data points and disconnected tools or analytics, customer-obsessed companies find a way to make sure that there is a common understanding of the customer experience throughout the organization.
For example, a Chief Digital Officer recently shared with me that they are changing the process behind how they develop their software and even the culture of his 200k+ organization, simply through empowering his team with the customer’s perspective. That is the true impact of customer obsession.
Fortunately, this methodology isn’t about the intelligence, skill, or leadership qualities of any one person or team within a business. As is clear in the case of Bezos and Amazon, it’s a top-down strategy — one that any company can adopt. Getting into the nuts and bolts of how to operationalize customer obsession reveals that it’s less about being clever or dedicated than it is about leveraging technology to create the best experience possible. And, the companies willing to take that leap are those that will define the digital landscape of the future.