“We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent” – Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is arguably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – founder/CEO’s of all time. What is more unbelievable is that he is only 58, and many believe that the company he founded (Amazon) is only just getting started.
Like many of the best leaders who have disrupted industries or successfully navigated disruptive events or crises, there are many unique leadership traits which characterise Jeff Bezos. However, when I think of one thing, it is this: Customer-obsession.
Below are some ways that Jeff executes this within Amazon:
Leadership principles: It is so important to Amazon that it is the first on their list of 14. Apparently all the other principles are interchangeable, but only one must be first – customer obsession.
Core value-driver: Jeff Bezos sees that there are 5 main ways of creating shareholder value:
- Competitor obsession
- Business model obsession
- Product obsession
- Technology obsession
- Customer obsession
While he acknowledges merits of all the approaches he believes that Customer Obsession is the healthiest approach:
“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. They experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen…”
Symbols: Early on in Amazon’s life, Jeff Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings so lieutenants would be forced to think about the crucial participant who wasn’t in the room: the customer. Now that surrogate’s role is played by specially trained employees, dubbed “Customer Experience Bar Raisers.” When they frown, vice presidents tremble.
Founding value: Amazon’s 1997 shareholder letter is the first documented account of the term Customer Obsession – in the heading Obsess over Customers.
While the whole letter makes an interesting read, not least the growth between 1996 and 1997 of 838% from $15.7 million to $147.8 million. It’s this paragraph discussing their relentless focus on delivering value for customers as the driver of their growth.
Customer obsessed growth has taken Amazon from a start-up in a garage to one of the leading companies in the world and disrupting multiple industries in its wake.
Customer focus vs customer obsession: Gibson Biddle, former VP of Product at Netflix, wrote an interesting blog post explaining how Netflix adopted ‘Customer Obsession’ in his time there. In the post Gibson uses an image to compare Customer Obsession with Customer Focus which properly distinguishes the strategies:
The below is a great short video summarising Jeff’s approach to customer obsession and long-term thinking:
This video provides details on Amazon’s 14 Leadership Principles with footage from various interviews with Jeff:
Other useful articles:
Below I have captured a few must-read resources to gain insight on Jeff’s leadership philosophy: