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10 Things We Can Learn from Amazon

By Lisa Leslie Henderson

In this age of the empowered customer, customer experience has become the primary source of competitive advantage for organizations. Multiple studies have shown that customer experience profoundly impacts customers’ willingness to purchase, the price they are willing to pay, their overall engagement, whether they are willing to advocate for brands, and companies’ stock performance. Successful companies are becoming customer-obsessed, creating highly relevant experiences that engage and delight their customers on a regular basis, across the entire customer journey.

One of the most skilled companies at creating remarkable customer experience is Amazon.  The company essentially sells customer experience:  it has what we want, when we want it, and gets it to us easily, quickly, and with care.  As one blogger wrote, “Amazon is liked so much because it is built to love.”

What Amazon does matters to all of us. Its presence is ubiquitous; it sets customer expectations for every organization across every industry.  As we set out to design our own remarkable customer experience, it is helpful to consider the following 10 dimensions of Amazon’s offering.

amazon1. Amazon is useful.  It’s search engine works like a personal assistant, finding what exactly its customers’ need. Amazon’s app allows users to take pictures of objects on their phone and its search engine will instantly identify the object and provide multiple buying options for purchasing it.  This ease of use is key.  Research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board found that “the impact of simplifying the purchase decision for consumers is four times stronger than the favored marketing strategy of engagement and is the number one driver of likelihood to buy.”

Questions for consideration:  Do our customers describe us as useful?  How might they find us more useful?  How might we simplify the purchase decision for our prospects and customers?

2. Amazon allows customers to purchase items from other sellers through its sites. When customers search for items on Amazon, in addition to pictures, descriptions, reviews, and prices of items, they can see how much competitors are selling items for and can even purchase from them via Amazon’s site.  As a result, Amazon has become the “go to” source for many, the first—and often only—environment people go to scope out options, pricing, and availability.  That’s prime real estate.

Questions for consideration:  Are our sites prime real estate? How might we serve as an unbiased resource for our customers?  Would providing our customers with access to competitive information or products enhance our usefulness?  Are we aware of our pricing relative to our competition on a moment-to-moment basis?

3. Amazon’s recommendations are spot on. How many times have you purchased something that Amazon recommended for you?  Many people find Amazon’s recommendations quite helpful, a way of discovering new and relevant books, music, and other products.  Indeed, more than 30 percent of Amazon’s revenue comes from these recommendations.

Questions for consideration:  How well are we getting to know our customers as individuals?  How savvy are our predictive abilities?  Are our recommendations accurate enough that they enhance our customers’ experience or do they detract from it?

4. Amazon enlists its customers to improve its communications and recommendation capabilityAmazon tells its customers:  “we want to stay in touch, but only in ways that you find helpful.”  To ensure that this statement is a reality, Amazon invites its customers to shape their communications with the company by choosing their email preferences, the types of emails they may receive, and whether they would like to receive any email at all.  This feels respectful, not invasive, and useful, unlike spam.  Similarly, Amazon invites its customers to improve its recommendation capability. By simply going into YourAmazon.com and looking under Improve Your Recommendations, customers can enhance their recommendations by indicating if a past purchase was for them or was a gift.  They can also rate lists of items to develop relevant filters for future recommendations.

Questions for consideration:  Are we bold enough to put choice about communicating with us in our customers’ hands? Are we giving our customers a sense of ownership of their experience with us and of their data?  Does our current customer experience convey choice?  Respect?  Confidence? How might we enhance our customers’ choice and control?

5. Amazon Prime makes purchases easy. Amazon’s Prime allows people to pay an annual fee for simplicity.  The fee covers future shipping costs from items purchased from Amazon as well as unlimited streaming of selected movies and access to over 500,000 Kindle titles.  It also simplifies the purchase process, as shoppers are only one or two clicks away from a purchase:  no input of payment data or addresses is required. The upfront purchase of free shipping for the rest of the year creates a customer preference for Amazon items while building a barrier for competitors that do not offer free shipping.  It also enables impulse purchasing. Did I mention that Amazon Prime has increased the average annual spend per customer from $500 to $1,200?

Questions for consideration:  How might we reduce friction for our customers?  What could we do, offer, or sell, that might make it easier for our customers to do business with us?  

6. Amazon is mindful of the end-to-end purchase experience. Amazon makes it easy for customers to track the delivery of their purchases, provide delivery feedback, write a product review, and return or replace items, all through its website.  This ability enhances transparency, keeps customers informed of what takes place after they press purchase, and reduces the demand on customer service call centers, taking additional friction out of the purchase process.  Similarly, its Kindle Fire comes equipped with a “Mayday” button, which connects its users to a live tech-support representative directly on their screen.  This makes it easy for customers to immediately maximize the usefulness of their e-reader. (As an indication of their usefulness, tech advisors have received over 35 marriage proposals from customers!)

Questions for consideration:  How many marriage proposals are we getting from customers? How might we enhance our implementation so that it becomes a selling feature of our customer experience?  Are their ways to empower our customers so that they feel more in control of aspects of their experience with us?  

7. Amazon recognizes that people are not always ready to buy NOW. An estimated 60% of shoppers leave an ecommerce site before completing a purchase resulting in an abandoned shopping cart. One of the primary reasons for their departure is indecision.  To improve its chances of recapturing that value, Amazon saves the results of customers’ search for them, reminding them of items of interest the next time they visit.  In addition, the company sends  “after cart messaging” to let people know when prices may have changed on items lefts in their cart.

Questions for consideration:  Are we capturing our customers’ movements well enough that we can pick up where they left off in our next encounter?  Can we successfully determine the next most relevant future customer interaction from their behavior? 

8. Amazon allows customers to allocate a portion of the proceeds of their purchase to a preferred cause.  Through its AmazonSmile Foundation, Amazon customers are able are able to support their favorite charitable organization.  Amazon donates 0.5% of the purchase price from eligible purchases via www. smile.amazon.com.

Questions for consideration:  Are we creating opportunities for our customer to live out their values through us?  What types of opportunities really matter to them? 

9. Amazon is continually testing customer experience enhancements. Amazon allows customers to create wish lists and a gift registry to facilitate gift giving.  One of my favorites is a wish list for supplies not covered in the school budget that is created by teachers for their classrooms.  Another great enhancement is AmazonFresh, a new level of Amazon Prime that is currently being tested in selected geographic regions.  AmazonFresh offers same-day and early morning delivery of items including fresh grocery and local products.  And then there is the Amazon Fire phone, which is due to be released on July 25.

Questions for consideration:  What is in our pipeline?  Might a simplified product offering do the trick? How broadly are we thinking?  What other needs do our customers have that we might be in a position to serve well?

10. Amazon iterates its way to success. Amazon did not always look and act like it does today.  Take a look at its early website—like all websites at the time, it was static and limited in its typeface and visuals—and originally the company only sold books.  It got where it is today because it knows that it is not limited to what it has been able to do in the past. Amazon has also made mistakes along the way.  But it didn’t stop there.

Questions for consideration:  What action can we take today? How might we experiment with different approaches?  

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