In a letter to shareholders, Amazon’s founder, chairman and chief executive officer said a “true customer obsession” is the best way to maintain the vitality of the business and protect Amazon from “Stasis. Followed by irrelevance [then] followed by excruciating, painful decline [then] followed by death.”
As for why such a customer-centric approach is the best way for Amazon, or any other business, to thrive, Bezos chalked it up to the chronic dissatisfaction of consumers.
“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great,” Bezos said. “Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.”
He used Amazon Prime as an example of staying ahead of customer dissatisfaction, saying no customer ever asked for the program, “but it sure turns out they wanted it.”
Bezos also pointed to Amazon as an example worth following with its development of machine learning in products like Alexa, and services such as drone delivery and its Amazon Go convenience stores, which uses machine vision to eliminate a checkout queue.
He added that much of the usefulness of this sort of technology is applicable beneath the surface of a business, including demand forecasting, product search ranking, merchandising placements and fraud detection.
“Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type — quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.”
The letter went on to dole out some general business advice, like never allowing processes to become “the thing” in a company.
“The process becomes the proxy for the result you want [and] you stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp,” Bezos said.
Market research and customer surveys are also not proxies for customers, Bezos said, a possibility that is “especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products,” according to the letter.
Other advice Bezos gave seemed more directed at traditional retail, like his homily on “powerful” external trends, including machine learning but also artificial intelligence, and the trouble large mainly organizations seem to have in embracing them.
“The outside world can push you into [stasis] if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly,” Bezos said. “If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”
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