Would That Not Be Nice

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

I’ve been reading The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It provides deep insights into Bezos and his relentless pursuit to delight Amazon’s customers. What if every company you do business with thought like Jeff Bezos. Would that not be nice?

Many companies don’t operate like Amazon because they are beholden to short term results. By investing in features and services that delight the customer, short term results may suffer. Bezos argues that if you take a long term view, the interest of the shareholders and customers align. I think he’s correct – and to date, both amazon customers and amazon investors have benefited from his vision.

For today’s post, I wanted to simply share Amazon’s letter to its shareholders. I hope you enjoy as much as I did.

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To our shareowners:

As regular readers of this letter will know, our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors. We don’t take a view on which of these approaches is more likely to maximize business success. There are pros and cons to both and many examples of highly successful competitor-focused companies. We do work to pay attention to competitors and be inspired by them, but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture.

One advantage – perhaps a somewhat subtle one – of a customer-driven focus is that it aids a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader.

“Thank you. Every time I see that white paper on the front page of Amazon, I know that I’m about to get more for my money than I thought I would. I signed up for Prime for the shipping, yet now I get movies, and TV and books. You keep adding more, but not charging more. So thanks again for the additions.” We now have more than 15 million items in Prime, up 15x since we launched in 2005. Prime Instant Video selection tripled in just over a year to more than 38,000 movies and TV episodes. The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has also more than tripled to over 300,000 books, including an investment of millions of dollars to make the entire Harry Potter series available as part of that selection. We didn’t “have to” make these improvements in Prime. We did so proactively. A related investment – a major, multi-year one – is Fulfillment by Amazon. FBA gives third-party sellers the option of warehousing their inventory alongside ours in our fulfillment center network. It has been a game changer for our seller customers because their items become eligible for Prime benefits, which drives their sales, while at the same time benefitting consumers with additional Prime selection.

We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers. One industry observer recently received an automated email from us that said, “We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental on Amazon Video On Demand: Casablanca. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount: $2.99. We hope to see you again soon.” Surprised by the proactive refund, he ended up writing about the experience: “Amazon ‘noticed that I experienced poor video playback…’ And they decided to give me a refund because of that? Wow…Talk about putting customers first.” [Here’s the original article.]

When you pre-order something from Amazon, we guarantee you the lowest price offered by us between your order time and the end of the day of the release date. “I just received notice of a $5 refund to my credit card for pre-order price protection. . . What a great way to do business! Thank you very much for your fair and honest dealings.” Most customers are too busy themselves to monitor the price of an item after they pre-order it, and our policy could be to require the customer to contact us and ask for the refund. Doing it proactively is more expensive for us, but it also surprises, delights, and earns trust.

We also have authors as customers. Amazon Publishing has just announced it will start paying authors their royalties monthly, sixty days in arrears. The industry standard is twice a year, and that has been the standard for a long time. Yet when we interview authors as customers, infrequent payment is a major dissatisfier. Imagine how you’d like it if you were paid twice a year. There isn’t competitive pressure to pay authors more than once every six months, but we’re proactively doing so. By the way – though the research was taxing, I struggled through and am happy to report that I recently saw many Kindles in use at a Florida beach. There are five generations of Kindle, and I believe I saw every generation in use except for the first. Our business approach is to sell premium hardware at roughly breakeven prices. We want to make money when people use our devices – not when people buy our devices. We think this aligns us better with customers. For example, we don’t need our customers to be on the upgrade treadmill. We can be very happy to see people still using four-year-old Kindles!

I can keep going – Kindle Fire’s FreeTime, our customer service Andon Cord, Amazon MP3’s AutoRip – but will finish up with a very clear example of internally driven motivation: Amazon Web Services. In 2012, AWS announced 159 new features and services. We’ve reduced AWS prices 27 times since launching 7 years ago, added enterprise service support enhancements, and created innovative tools to help customers be more efficient. AWS Trusted Advisor monitors customer configurations, compares them to known best practices, and then notifies customers where opportunities exist to improve performance, enhance security, or save money. Yes, we are actively telling customers they’re paying us more than they need to. In the last 90 days, customers have saved millions of dollars through Trusted Advisor, and the service is only getting started. All of this progress comes in the context of AWS being the widely recognized leader in its area – a situation where you might worry that external motivation could fail. On the other hand, internal motivation – the drive to get the customer to say “Wow” – keeps the pace of innovation fast.


Our heavy investments in Prime, AWS, Kindle, digital media, and customer experience in general strike some as too generous, shareholder indifferent, or even at odds with being a for-profit company. “Amazon, as far as I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers,” writes one outside observer. But I don’t think so. To me, trying to dole out improvements in a just-in-time fashion would be too clever by half. It would be risky in a world as fast-moving as the one we all live in. More fundamentally, I think long-term thinking squares the circle. Proactively delighting customers earns trust, which earns more business from those customers, even in new business arenas. Take a long-term view, and the interests of customers and shareholders align.

As I write this, our recent stock performance has been positive, but we constantly remind ourselves of an important point – as I frequently quote famed investor Benjamin Graham in our employee all-hands meetings – “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.” We don’t celebrate a 10% increase in the stock price like we celebrate excellent customer experience. We aren’t 10% smarter when that happens and conversely aren’t 10% dumber when the stock goes the other way. We want to be weighed, and we’re always working to build a heavier company.

As proud as I am of our progress and our inventions, I know that we will make mistakes along the way – some will be self-inflicted, some will be served up by smart and hard-working competitors. Our passion for pioneering will drive us to explore narrow passages, and, unavoidably, many will turn out to be blind alleys. But – with a bit of good fortune – there will also be a few that open up into broad avenues.

I am incredibly lucky to be a part of this large team of outstanding missionaries who value our customers as much as I do and who demonstrate that every day with their hard work. As always, I attach a copy of our original 1997 letter. Our approach remains the same, and it’s still Day 1.

 

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Jeffrey P. Bezos
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Amazon.com, Inc.
April 2013

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazons-letter-to-shareholders-2013-4#ixzz2l2kNhvqM

Lean wins. Every. time.

Lean is all about eliminating waste. The concept can be applied to manufacturing, product development, startups and leadership, just to name a few.

Since waste can never be completely eliminated, it gives us a true north to always strive for.

Don’t confuse lean for economy. It could even mean the opposite. Lean simply means that every interaction, every test, every item shipped serves some purpose. All is done by design.

Lean wins because it’s intentional. It’s purposeful. If your competition isn’t learning from their mistakes, they are not practicing lean methodology. If you are not learning from short words you had with your spouse or kids, if you are not getting your ideas in front of your customers before it’s to late to make changes, if you are not giving the members of your team meaningful opportunities to take risks, you are not practicing the lean way.

I am convinced that as we have more choices as consumers, businesses will have to be “lean.” We won’t stand for waste. Those that make the most of our feedback – the insights to be gain from empathizing with us – will win. Every. time.

Playing to Win

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I am starting a series of posts on A.G Lafley and Roger Martin’s Playing to Win. It’s a delightful book on strategy AND it’s not what you might typically think about when the words “business strategy” are mentioned.

For many of you, the words “business strategy” will produce one of two responses.

One: you will want to fall asleep, close this tab in your browser, block my facebook updates.

Two: you think about businessmen and women in a room figuring out how they can make more money, often at the expense of you, the customer.

So what is different about Lafley and Martin’s approach? The winning is strongly linked to delivering superior value to your customers…i.e. you win when your customer wins.

Peter Drucker said, “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Contrast this with what is taught in every Economics 101 class, “the purpose of a business is to maximize profit.”

What Lafley and Martin show us (in this book and Martin’s articles) is that the way to maximize profit (the Econ 101 definition) is to maximize customer satisfaction. The ideas are related, but those that put the profit maximization ahead of making the customers happy will not win in the long run.

I think Johnson and Johnson’s credo is a great example of this idea. I’ve include the entire credo below. (highlight is mine). LINK TO PDF

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Notice the order in the credo:

  1. Customers
  2. Suppliers and Distributors
  3. Employees
  4. Communities
  5. Shareholders

The shareholders are listed LAST! Does J&J care about their shareholders? Absolutely, but they ensure that the shareholders win by taking care of 1-4 on the list above. “When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return.”

I’l end this with a few questions, what do you think would motivate your employee base (or yourself)? A: Solving an important problem for your customer, somehow making their lives better, etc. or B: Improving returns for shareholders?

For me (and for 99.999% of the world) it’s A. I get excited about discovering and meeting our customers needs. I want to help ensure that they are delighted.

What should we be teaching students in economics? The purpose of the firm is to maximize profits? or should it be that the purpose of the firm is to maximize customer value? Which one would attract the best and the brightest into business? Again, I believe we could dramatically change the experience of most business school students by focusing on improving the lives of customers.

For the next few blog posts, I’ll dive further into some of the ideas discussed in Playing to Win. Now that you see that strategy can have a higher purpose, please come along for the ride.

Roger was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and sign my copy of his book.

Roger was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me and sign my copy of his book.