Customer unboxing

01.28.2019

Customer Service  |  21 min read

The Amazon Playbook to Optimize for Client Delight

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Adam Enfroy

People are creatures of emotion. We make decisions based on how we feel about something, not just what logically makes sense.

That’s why customer/client service is so important.

If you make your clients feel good, they will buy from you. If you upset them or make them angry, they won’t. What’s worse, if you upset your clients, word will get out. A negative review here, an angry Reddit post there, and soon enough, this negative word-of-mouth has the potential to ruin your company’s reputation.

Glowing reviews and positive word-of-mouth testimonials, on the other hand, can turn a small company into one of the world’s largest retailers—think Zappos or Amazon

Amazon’s ability to delight their customers is legendary. From free, two-day shipping to competitive prices, their great customer service, and the world’s largest selection of retail products, everything they do is to please their customers.

What does this have to do with you? How can you take a page from Amazon’s playbook?

In this article, I’ve identified some of the key factors Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, credits his company’s success to (like customer obsession and embracing trends).

Follow this guide to borrow from Amazon’s top-tier strategies for delighting customers and clients. Use it as a playbook to incorporate into your own business and achieve more sales, higher client retention, and better word-of-mouth.

Amazon’s first secret: true customer obsession

According to Bezos, there are many ways to center what a business focuses on.

You can be competitor-focused. You can be product-focused. You can be technology-focused. The list goes on.

But the best approach, Bezos says, is always to be customer-focused.

Here’s his rationale behind it:

Customers are always dissatisfied on some level - even when they report being happy and brand loyal.

What he means by this is that people are always unhappy with some aspect of their lives. Something can always be improved, even if we don’t know it yet.

They might not know it or understand it consciously, but your clients want better products and services.

For example, people didn’t know they wanted phones with touch screens. But when they came out, we all realized how much better those phones are.

So, how do you delight your clients?

You center your entire company around your clients, make it a priority to connect with them emotionally, and invent new products, services, or models that anticipate their needs:

Amazon example

You tell your brand story with conviction so your clients understand the why behind everything you do. Doris Sleep, a luxury pillow company that makes its pillows in the U.S. from recycled materials, tells a deep and personal brand story on their About page, which helps their customers connect with their brand on a deeper level.

You also build an email newsletter on your site that focuses on driving value to the consumer, not sales:

Email newsletter exampleImage source: Mason Woodruff blog

By delivering better emails that drive value, you can actually get people to open them and engage with your brand.

You could also collect genuine client feedback through engaging channels (like a chatbot) then use that survey info for direct product and service improvements:

Chatbot exampleImage source: Landbot.io

This strategy lead Landbot to generate a 30 percent conversion rate on their surveys:

Landbot.io chart showing successImage source: Landbot.io

Another great example is Amazon Prime. To our knowledge, no customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but once Amazon launched it, the response was phenomenal.

Amazon Prime review

But how exactly did Amazon successfully predict what their customers would want, when the customers didn’t even know what they wanted themselves?

Here’s how Bezos puts it:

When you’re customer focused, you’ll constantly be "trying new things, accepting failures, planting seeds, protecting saplings, and doubling down when you see customer delight.

In other words—experiment. Test new ideas that you think your clients would love, and see how it goes. If the response is great, roll it out on a larger scale. If not, scratch it off the list and go back to the drawing board.

Once you become known for being innovative and releasing things your clients want to engage with, people will start talking about your brand. And tweeting about it. And recommending it to their friends. Just like Stacey Anders did when she tweeted about her love of Amazon Prime. And just like the thousands of other people have done as well.

Once you’re client focused, everything else will fall into place.

Amazon’s second secret: Resist ‘process by proxies’

Processes, when done well, take a lot of tedious work off your hands. They streamline your day-to-day tasks and help your company become more productive.

But if you’re not careful, the process can become the proxy for the result you want.

What does that mean? Here’s how Bezos explains it:

It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, ‘Well, we followed the process.’ A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process.

So processes are great for productivity, and you need systems to grow a business.

But if you don’t instill leadership and empower your people to deviate from the processes when there’s an edge case or an obvious improvement, they can strangle your business.

What I recommend is to get your team (not just senior management, but also the junior staff) to sit down and evaluate the processes within your company from time to time. You could even ask them to build processes and tweak them with their own ideas. Sometimes, the lower-level employees in the weeds are the ones with the biggest process insights.

Get them to use mind map templates where they can map out processes and the steps they take, looking for areas of improvement to existing workflows:

Mind map templatesImage source: Venngage

Then, ask yourself: Do I own my company’s processes, or do they own me?

To find your answer, ask the people performing the processes if they feel it’s helping more than it’s hurting. Ask them if there are any situations where the process caused a screw-up and if the person who screwed up felt like they were able to deviate from the process when it wasn’t working.

If it’s the latter, you’ve got a huge problem on your hands. Again, you need to empower your people to deviate from the process when it’s doing more harm than good. And you need to make it easy for them to provide helpful feedback and improve the processes.

Now, let’s talk about how this relates back to client delight.

Here’s what Bezos says:

Market research and customer surveys typically become proxies for customers – which is “especially dangerous” when you’re inventing and designing products.

Take, for example, a statement that says: “Fifty-five percent of beta testers report being satisfied with this feature. That’s up from 47 percent in the first survey.”

Not only is this statistic hard to interpret, but it could also unintentionally mislead. People may say they like it just to be on the side of the majority.

And when you have many of these statistics, all of which you use to guide your product strategy, you’ll start veering off course.

Think about it this way: Your job is to minimize the disconnect between what your client actually wants and what you think your client wants.

To achieve this, the inventors and designers in your company need to invest time and energy into developing a certain intuition. They’ll need to study and understand numerous anecdotes—not just base their decisions on the averages they get from surveys.

In a nutshell:

To achieve client delight, inventors and designers have to resist falling back on process by proxy, and instead evolve the design as needed.

This means they need to understand when times and desires are changing and change their design to match those new needs, even if it goes against the current system.

Just to make it clear, Amazon is not against surveys (they send out customer surveys sometimes when a customer purchases a product, so they do see the value of surveys).

Amazon survey request letterImage source: Amazon

But what Amazon does differently is put their focus on understanding the voice of the customer (while still having a vision and believing in their products).

Take a page out of Amazon’s book: Set up systems to be productive and efficient, have standard operating procedures, and send surveys.

But don’t let the system become the goal. The goal is to delight your clients. Sometimes that means deviating from your processes by empowering your people and understanding your customers.

Amazon’s third secret: Embrace external trends

It’s such a cliche phrase, but it’s true: Change is the only constant.

Never forget this: If you get cocky and start resting on your laurels, you’re basically halfway down the road to failure. It doesn’t matter how big or small an organization you are—this principle applies to everyone. Even monster companies like Amazon can fall. Just look at these examples.

On the topic of external trends, here’s what Bezos says:

If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.

For example, one of the biggest trends of the moment is machine learning and artificial intelligence. To ensure they’re always two steps ahead, Amazon has been engaged in the practical application of machine learning for years now.

Some of this is pretty visible.

It’s easy to see how these applications help with client delight.

For one thing, Amazon’s Prime Air drones allow them to reach more people in less time.

The drones also eliminate the annoying delivery windows (“Your goods will be delivered between 10 am and 4 pm.") because customers will have access to a timer which literally counts down the seconds to delivery.

Amazon Prime dronesImage source: Amazon

Plus, the Prime Air drones are just so damn cool.

And that’s a huge part of client delight. You don’t just want to solve your client’s problems, you want to go one step further and solve their problems in a way that gets them excited.

To do that, you’ll need to think like a marketer. You’ve solved the problem, now how can you make it look cool and cutting-edge? What can you say, or how can you position it, to get people excited? It doesn’t have to be the big things, like fancy machine learning and stores with thousands of cameras that let you check out without actually scanning your items. While those are all great things, you can still have a massive impact with the small things.

For instance: Making sure items are always in stock, so your clients can purchase them as and when they need. This is a basic thing, but the basics are hugely important.

Offer an easy sales experience with every feature a user might need - multiple payment methods, minimal distractions, electronic signature software, and a mobile-optimized checkout.

Or, improve the relevance of your product search, so the first listing that pops up is exactly what your clients are looking for. Amazon (left) and Apple (right) do it like this:

Amazon example 2

One of the easiest ways to do this is through knowledge base software, which is used by both Amazon and Apple to store consumer-facing information, and even improving that information it via search optimization.

This makes finding the content on the consumer’s end easier than ever. Notice how the first thing that comes up when you type “Harry Potter” is an Amazon instant video. Similarly, when you type “ip” on Apple’s website, it shows common searches with those letters, and recommended results that are likely what you’re looking for (cough iPhone cough).

Amazon’s fourth secret: Make high-velocity decisions

Here’s the last point I have for you today: To delight your clients, focus on making high-quality, high-velocity decisions.

The larger you grow, the more red tape you have to deal with. This is something that pretty much every company faces—including Amazon.

So what does Amazon do to counter this? What are their high-velocity decisions?

According to Forrester Research, 73 percent of respondents say that a company that values their time is the most important thing for good client service.

To meet this need, Amazon produced one of the biggest decision factors impacting client delight: Guaranteed delivery times and outlining the client experience before it even happens.

Amazon example 3

Here are some tips from Bezos himself on how to implement a decision like this.

Tip #1: Never use a one-size-fits-all process to make decisions.

According to Bezos, many decisions are reversible, two-way doors, and for those decisions, you can use a light-weight process.

This helps a lot with decision-making, because all of a sudden, there’s so much less riding on these decisions.

It all boils down to recognizing the changes you implement are not set in stone. So what if you’re wrong? You can always reverse your decision, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

This is where split-testing comes into play, allowing you to test your theories, dump failures, an double down on winners.

This is a strategy that product manufacturing company, Need/Want, used to improve customer delight, generating a $2.5 million brand.

NeedWant example

Be sure to split-test to different target markets, too. Don’t let a one-size-fits-all approach pigeonhole your marketing.

Also consider using grammar tools like Grammarly to test new marketing copy for different audiences based on intent, audience, tone, and more.

GrammarlyImage source: Grammar Gang

Did the copy work for audience X? Double-down. But don’t expect it to be flawless for audience Z.

Tip #2: Most decisions should be made with 70 percent of the information you wish you had.

Some people might disagree with this, but here’s Bezos’s take on it:

If you wait until you get 90 percent of the information that you need to make decisions, you’re probably too slow.

To the risk-averse folks who prefer to err on the side of caution, here’s how you can look at it: Either way, you’ll need to learn how to recognize and correct bad decisions quickly.

If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think. On the other hand, being slow can also be costly.

So, once you have 70 percent (not 90 percent) of the information you need to make a decision, make it. Do the best you can with what you have. If you’re wrong, change course.

Tip #3: Make the phrase “disagree and commit” your best friend.

Every company wants to foster a great working environment where everyone’s views are heard, and all team members are on the same page.

Unfortunately, you rarely get unanimous votes on decisions (and even if you do, this might be a sign of groupthink, which can be damaging).

Instead, the next time you have a conviction on a specific direction, even though there’s no consensus, try Bezo’s line::

"Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?"

Here’s why this line is awesome:

You’re acknowledging the validity of your team members’ contributions, but asking them to let you take the reins on this one.

Frame the situation by saying something like this: “If our conversions don’t improve in three months, we’ll cut our losses and go back to the original program.”

Be sure you are ready and willing to make compromises for your team as well.

Now that you’re equipped with a few tips on how to make high-velocity decisions, let’s talk about why these are so important in the context of client delight.

You probably already know that your clients (and consumers in general) are impatient people. But do you know exactly how impatient they are?

Here’s a statistic that will blow your mind: Around 47 percent of consumers expect a website to load in two seconds (or less).

With every one second delay in response time, you’ll experience seven percent fewer conversions on your website.

Here’s the math: Let’s say you’re getting 100 inquiries on your new blog, online store, or SaaS website per day, and on average, you convert 20 percent of these customers into paying accounts. Assuming each customer’s lifetime value is $1,000, a one-second delay would translate into you losing $7,000 worth of potential revenue. Every. Single. Day.

At this point, it should be crystal clear: When it comes to satisfying your clients and delivering a fantastic experience, you don’t have the luxury of time.

If you want to increase your conversions, your clients aren’t going to sit around and wait six months, a year, or two years for you to make things better.

If you’re falling short, they’ll cancel their subscription in a month—or even a week.

So, to stop your clients from churning into oblivion, do like Amazon and commit to making high-velocity decisions.

A Final Word On Optimizing Your Business For Client Delight

If you only take away one key thing from this entire article, let this be it:

You’ve got to care. Stop letting things slide. Stop thinking “it can wait.” Stop saying “We’ll fix it next month.” If you don’t prioritize client delight and center your business around client obsession, you might be able to continue skating by. but you’ll never be able to follow in the footsteps of Amazon or become the key player in your industry.

So here’s to taking that first step to overhauling your company and reworking all your strategies to focus on customer delight. And who knows, maybe five years down the road, your client success stories could be featured on blog articles worldwide, right next to Amazon.

Adam Enfroy is a writer, content marketing consultant, and manages strategic partnerships for BigCommerce. With 10+ years of digital marketing experience, he's passionate about leveraging the right strategic partnerships, content, and software to scale digital growth. Adam lives in Austin, TX and writes about affiliate marketing programs and scaling your online influence on his blog, adamenfroy.com.

You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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