If Leo Tolstoy is right when he says all happy families are alike, then Amazon must be a very happy family.
Redfin has had three speakers from Amazon visit us, one as recently as last week; what’s striking about all three is how similar each sounded to one another, despite coming from different departments, and even different eras in Amazon’s growth. Over and over again, the speakers sounded one theme: relentlessly improving the customer experience.
This theme is so obvious that you’d expect everyone to trumpet it, but most don’t.
The kinds of people who are asked to give talks are generally very successful people, whose stories assume the shape of battles lost and (mostly) won. But for Amazonians, it seems like the battle never ends: Amazon’s Neil Roseman gave engineers a log-in so every Amazonian could see on each page the performance statistics for that page. When an Amazonian tells a story, it doesn’t conclude with a triumphant result in the style of almost every business anecdote. It just sort of trails off toward the next improvement. It’s a very humble, restless way to look at the world.
What’s more noticeable is every Amazonian’s emphasis on putting the customer first. You expect technical folks to focus on technical challenges but it’s startling how easily the engineers at Amazon connect a technical problem to a customer problem. Neil, and his former engineering colleague, Rick Dalzell, both talk about customers they’d never met like next-door neighbors.
I find it even more impressive that the business folks whom you expect to take a cynical attitude toward profits are the ones who are most idealistic about improving the customer experience. When we asked Scott Jacobson how Amazon decided when to recommend a partner’s product over its own, we expected to hear about a fancy profit-maximizing formula that was far more complicated than the one Amazon actually uses: what’s best for the customer?
I could have cried when Scott said that. If it’s so simple to be good, why is it so hard? I think Jeff Bezos’s greatest achievement at Amazon is that he has made customer-first thinking easy, not hard. And he has proven that it is the only way to generate sustainable profits. I hope that one day when all the Redfin old-timers are sent out to the speaking circuit, we all sound the same in that one respect.