Doing what’s right for the customer is often an article of faith


Recently, I was listening to an interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, on HBR’s Ideacast series (you can listen to the interview here: Jeff Bezos on Leading for the Long-Term at Amazon)

Whilst the whole conversation was only 10 minutes long there a section, in particular, that stood out for me. Here it is, for you (from the transcript):

ADI IGNATIUS: Amazon has done a great job of self-cannibalizing its revenue streams, going from Amazon Store to Amazon Marketplace, from print to ebooks, and so on. In most companies, moves like those would be hard to execute without organizational turmoil. How have you managed the transitions?

JEFF BEZOS: When things get complicated, we simplify by saying what’s best for the customer? And then we take it as an article of faith if we do that, it’ll work out the long term. So we can never prove that. In fact, sometimes we’ve done a price elasticity studies, and the answer is always we should raise prices. And we don’t do that because we believe– and again, we have to take this as an article of faith– we believe by keeping our prices very, very low, we earn trust with customers over time, and that that actually does maximize free cash flow over the long term.

What I find really interesting about this is that despite the fact that Amazon are a very smart, sophisticated and innovative technology business they understand that data analysis, science, mathematics and economics will only take you so far and sometimes will point you in the wrong direction.

Therefore, in order to build better relations with their customers, become more customer centric and do what is right for their customers they have to do what they believe and feel is right.

I think there are lessons for many businesses here. Especially, those that are thinking about or striving to improve their customer experience, their customer service or become more customer centric.

Sometimes you have to forget the logic, the analysis and the data and just go with what you believe to be the right thing to do.

Sometimes we need to have more faith.

Photo Credit: Krissy.Venosdale via Compfight cc

4 comments On Doing what’s right for the customer is often an article of faith

  • Hello Adrian
    It occurs to me that Bezos, you, and I stand together on this one. In my upbringing I was taught “Do what is right. Always do what is right.” I am clear that the heart of the customer-centric orientation is to ask the following two questions before any decision, any action:
    1) “Is this genuinely in the best interests of our customers?”
    2) “How do we make sure that we are not kidding ourselves when we say it is genuinely in the best interests of our customers?”

    Yes, my whole issues with the data/intellect/’science’ thing is that humanity-relationship-connect-ethics lie outside of data/intellect/’science’. Incidentally, science is badly misunderstood. If you dig deeply enough you will find that the most scientific of sciences -Physics- is a set of assumptions/beliefs about the way that the world is. This belief in the orderliness of the universe is best captured by Einstein’s quip “God does not play dice.” Here is what Prof. Hawking says:

    “Laplace’s vision, of scientific determinism, involved knowing the positions and speeds of the particles in the universe, at one instant of time. So it was seriously undermined by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle. How could one predict the future, when one could not measure accurately both the positions, and the speeds, of particles at the present time? No matter how powerful a computer you have, if you put lousy data in, you will get lousy predictions out.

    Einstein was very unhappy about this apparent randomness in nature. His views were summed up in his famous phrase, ‘God does not play dice’. He seemed to have felt that the uncertainty was only provisional: but that there was an underlying reality, in which particles would have well defined positions and speeds, and would evolve according to deterministic laws, in the spirit of Laplace. This reality might be known to God, but the quantum nature of light would prevent us seeing it, except through a glass darkly. ”

    Thanks for an interesting post. I wish you well my friend. Keep writing, I enjoy listening to your speaking.


    • Thanks Maz,
      I am pleased that we stand together on this one. Doing what is right is part of my code and the code of the companies that I work with and am interested in.

      Thanks too for the physics lesson….it’s a great addition to the post.


  • I wonder if Jeff Bezos really just shows faith?

    I have worked for organisations that are short term, chase the money, hit the numbers, analytically focused.

    And I have worked for organisations that take a long term customer centric purpose lead approach.

    And it is the second group that make the most money, and have the most fun.

    Perhaps Jeff just knows that?

    But then, where do knowledge and faith split?


    • James,
      When I was listening to the interview the thing I took from it was that you can prove whatever you want to prove with the right data. However, the ‘right’ thing is just something that Jeff Bezos ‘knows’. So, where do knowledge and faith split….I’m not sure….but I am sure that experience, learning and context are in the mix too.

      What do you think?


Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Site Footer