Update — May 28, 9:55 a.m, ET: The legendary author has died at age 86.
The latest results from the American Customer Satisfaction Index reveals Amazon.com as the reigning and undisputed champ in both Internet retailing and across the entire department in overall customer satisfaction. Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos perhaps more than any business leader has taken the philosophy of truly caring for the customer and ushered it into the digital era. Bezos has built a company from the ground up purely based off of the unbending, unyielding philosophy of serving the customer across all departments. With a 164 million Amazon customers, few would argue Bezos as the key architect of building an authentic, customer-centric company.
“Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”
As part of a training session each year, Jeff Bezos asks thousands of Amazon managers, including himself, to attend two days of call-center training. Most likely this was a doctrine borrowed from the U.S. Marines as all marines, regardless of rank, are trained to be a rifleman first. Nonetheless, the incentive here is for managers to immediately be placed in the mindset that Amazon’s philosophy is about listening, and most importantly, understanding the customer. It’s easy to listen to customers. However the first step of every employee must be to understand them and their needs in order to successfully better the organization.
“We’re not competitor obsessed, we’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.”
The Kindle tablet came into existence purely defined by customers’ desires rather than engineers’ preferences and personal preferences. What was remarkable was that Bezos hardly faltered in creating a product built for the customer even after it took years to construct the right hardware. One finance executive in particular learned quickly of his philosophy when he asked Bezos how much he was prepared to spend on the Kindle project, where the CEO quickly replied: “How much do we have?”
Business leaders must never stray from the overall fact that the customer pays the wages at your company (an old Henry Ford quote) determine what they need and work to serve them. During the next evaluation of a product or service team, stop thinking about how you can make the product or organization better and start thinking about how you can make your customers more successful.
“Focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient.”
Even during the fledgling days of Amazon, Bezos worked hard to establish the philosophy of a company that obsesses over their customers from top to bottom. An overwhelming figure that used to always set the tone of his meetings was “the empty chair.” Early on, Bezos brought an empty chair into meetings and informed his top executives that they should consider that seat occupied by their customer, “the most important person in the room.” Throughout these meetings, a different weight was held on all decisions as the invisible but clear presence of the customer was always accounted for.
“We’re not satisfied until it’s 100%.”
In the December of 2011, Jeff Bezos was “very proud” that Amazon was able to hit the unfathomable goal of delivering his promise to get packages to 99.9% of his customers before Christmas. No small feat transporting millions of packages worldwide and missing their mark on a handful of deliveries in just a few, short nights. To Bezos, though, there is still room for improvement as he stated: “We’re not satisfied until it’s 100%.”
As your customer service team continues aiming to hit response time goals to customers and improve satisfaction ratings never settle for 99% – always shoot for 100. In today’s age, customers are talking to one another and are referring companies that provide a more satisfactory customer experience. And they’re paying more to ensure this (just look at Amazon).
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000.”
As one of the original ecommerce pioneers, there can be little argument that Bezos firmly understands the authority of today’s customer. Today’s customer is listening to peers, researching heavily online and posting complaints on social media – changing everything business owners thought they knew about customer relationships.
Put in the work and research so that you fully understand your customer base and never take them for granted. Respected brands have fallen high from their perches due to poorly mishandled situations in dealing with an unhappy customer. Make sure to have a clear and concise plan with how you deal with bad reviews or complaints from customers (it’s going to happen). Above all else, no matter how frustrated you may be with a customer who takes a complaint to the Internet, never fail to respond and always say thank you.
“If we can arrange things in such a way that our interests are aligned with our customers, then in the long term that will work out really well for customers and it will work out really well for Amazon.”
One important curiosity that remains is that of all of the great customer service that Amazon provides, it still doesn’t explain why they’re making billions of dollars in sales each quarter. Similar organizations like Costco and Target demonstrate their world-class customer service as well—yet their combined market capitalization trails Amazon’s by $98 billion.
The secret sauce to Amazon’s success was Bezo’s ability to create a customer-centric company. All of his departments throughout Amazon are completely data-driven based upon the success and failures of the customer experience. It allows him to take risks to innovate and make difficult decisions because he has the concrete evidence to decide what is best for the customer and ultimately, what is best for the company. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Bezos said of his customer-centric company: “We don’t focus on the optics of the next quarter; we focus on what is going to be good for customers. I think this aspect of our culture is rare.”
“We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”
Over the past nearly two decades, Amazon has held a steady pace of positive press due to their industry-altering company and great customer service. However back in 2009, the foundations of the online book mogul were shook when they remotely deleted copies of the books “1984” and “Animal Farm” from users’ Kindles. The incident prompted an outcry of Internet users to see the dark, “Big Brother” side of Amazon – one that Bezos had worked hard to steer clear of. Amazon quickly made an apology with the usual dry and inhuman statement from the press team. But what really turned people back towards Amazon, was an informal and heartfelt apology from Jeff Bezos:
The lesson that can be learned here is that the problem was quickly forgotten and even met with praise for Jeff’s ability to take responsibility for his mistake. Take a look at some of the replies from customers:
Apologizing is embarrassing and frustrating – it’s an open surrender that you screwed up once out of the thousands of positive contributions you have made to your customers. However, a solid, heartfelt apology is true representation that your organization cares about the needs of the customer. That itself speaks louder than any multi-million dollar advertising message.
Upon reading this post, I am not expecting you to come down Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. There is no immediate action that needs to be taken from these lessons. Merely the ability to look at your business and its customer service in a different light. How do you view your customers now? Take this as an opportunity to learn from a man who has fully grasped what it means to build a customer-centric company.
I talk about money. A lot.
Years ago when I was just starting to appear on national television, a woman stopped me on the street, turned to her friends and pointed: “I know you. You’re… the money lady!”
What she didn’t realize is that I only became the money lady once I learned to downgrade the importance of money in my life.
Don’t get me wrong — I fully appreciate the need to have a base level of money to be able to live a safe and healthy life. The hard part is recognizing that once you have the basic necessities covered, what you do with money can get in the way of becoming truly content and happy, and present for those you love.
After spending my 20s waitressing and never earning more than $400 a month, my 30s were a drastic shift. I built a successful financial planning practice and was making more in a month than I used to make in a year. But here was the problem: the more money I made, the more I wanted other people to see how great I was doing, financially speaking.
I spent so much money — on fancy cars, watches and clothes simply to impress other people — that I got myself heavily into debt. If I were a guest on my CNBC show today, I would have given myself one serious smackdown.
My finances were a mess, but more importantly, my money was a mess because I was a mess. I had it all wrong — all the things I was spending my money on added nothing to my self-worth.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I dug deep and realized I needed to make a major change. What I eventually learned, and what continues to drive me personally and professionally some 30 years later, is this central truth:
Money will never define you. You define your money.
When you are starting out in your 20s, it is natural to think about all that you will have and do once you start making money, and making moremoney. That gives money way too much power over your life. It’s not about how much you make, but the life that you make with the money you have.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that I met the love of my life when I was 50. My 25-year-old and 35-year-old self hadn’t yet figured out what truly matters. Part of that journey is never forgetting that who you are is far more important than what you have. I will say it one more time:
Money will never define you. You define your money.
Books are such a great source of knowledge and when you find the right books that interest you, you become an overflowing fountain, spilling over with great ideas and stimulated on to do good stuff whether at home or at work. Getting to the end of a great book and being topped back up with ideas and enthusiasm is almost like a drug for me now; books have become addictive in a good way.
These are just the highlights of my book reading over the past months and years, my top few because if I list any more, you may feel a little overwhelmed of which one to pick first. Of course your reading list will be different to mine, but these are my top-notch selection for now. I may not have even read the best book of my life as yet, who knows, maybe you can recommend one.
1. Choose the life you want by Tal Ben-Shahar is a simple book to make you think. Packed full of the possible choices you can make in your life and what doing the opposite will bring you, it’s a great way to realize that perhaps there is a better way to be you. One to keep and read several times over your life to make sure you are the track you want to be. Pick it up and put it down, or read it straight through.
2. The start-up of you by Reid Hoffman takes you through a thought process about developing the brand of you. The light bulb moment for me from this book was that I didn’t have to build a multi million-dollar company to be successful; it could just be me, the start-up of me and maturing beyond.
3. How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie is always high up on my list of all time classics for interacting with others. In my view, this book should be a staple in all schools across the globe because if children were taught Dale’s principles, I think the world would be a much friendlier place. Always keep a copy of this book through your life and revisit it often.
1. The E-Myth revisited by Michael Gerber has been around for many years as simply The E-Myth but like many great books, updated versions are required to take into account how we do business in the present day. Told as a fable, it’s again a very easy to read and extremely enlightening book on why people start businesses and why the majority find it tough. When you realize we all fit into 3 different categories it’s easy to see just which one you are and what you need to do to survive.
2. Contagious by Jonah Berger is filled with great examples about why things have caught on, what has made them so special that millions of people have shared with others and how can you do the same. Hoping that something goes viral is not a strategy for doing so, there is a science behind it and Jonah reveals all.
3. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini is a great follow up book to read after Dale Carnegies bestseller above. It’s not about manipulation, more about just getting the best result you can from a meeting or sale or interaction by getting the required ‘yes’.
4. Made to stick by Chip and Dan Heath is a fascinating read again packed with real life stories. So what makes an urban legend stick, and some real life stories forgettable? How did some of our greatest movies get massive budgets to proceed when there was virtually no information available? How do newspapers get you to read on from the headline? Get the book and find out.
Whether it’s creating a better business or being a better person I hope my selection above gives you some food for thought, they certainly have for me. Feel free to add your top-notch selection in the comments below.
Dwight Eisenhower knew a thing or two about personal branding. His brand was so strong, he became the Allied Supreme Commander in WWII and then a US President. I’ve always liked what he has to say about integrity, an important component of a personal brand.
“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.“
Integrity is key to creating the life and career success you want and deserve. Tweet 62 in my book, Success Tweets, says, “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.”
I tell my career mentoring clients that there are two common sense steps for developing and nurturing your personal brand.
Then I tell that that regardless of what they choose as their brand, make sure they build it on integrity.
According to Wikipedia, “Integrity is consistency of actions, values, methods, measures and principles.” It’s true, integrity and consistency are intertwined. People who are consistent in their actions are most often seen as people with a high degree of integrity.
Oprah says, “Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” This is true. If you practice situational ethics – doing the right thing only when you’re in the public eye — you aren’t really a person of high integrity, you’re just pretending to be one.
Besides, it’s hard to act one way in public, and another in private. So to be safe, listen to Oprah. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do – not because you’ll get credit, or avoid getting into trouble.
There’s a practical side to this too. Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” In other words, if you’re always a person of high integrity, it’s easy to be a person of high integrity; there are no complicating factors – like remembering what you did or said in a given situation.
Polonius gave similar advice to Hamlet. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow as the day the night, thou canst be false to no man.” Roy Blackman, my father in law, passed away several years ago. This quote was his epitaph. It was on the program handed out at his funeral. Roy embodied it in how he lived his life. It was the only piece of advice he gave his grandson when he went off to college.
Oprah, Mark Twain and Shakespeare are all in agreement on one common sense piece of career advice. If you want to become known as a person of high integrity, and integrity should be the cornerstone of any personal brand, act as a person of high integrity all the time – not just when it suits you, or when someone might notice.
Here’s a story to illustrate this point. Cathy, my wife, was a flight attendant for 36 years. Seniority is a very important thing in the airline industry. It governs how you bid for trips, positions on the airplane and vacations – almost anything important to a flight attendant’s quality of work life.
A few years before she retired, Cathy’s airline made a big push into the international market. International flights were plum assignments; they went to people with high seniority.
However, the airline realized that it would be to their advantage to have some flight attendants who spoke the language of the country to which they were flying on these international flights. Most senior flight attendants in her airline, Cathy included, spoke English only. The airline proposed putting two “language speakers” – often lower level in seniority, but with the ability to speak the language of the country to which they were flying — on each international flight. Many people, including Cathy, were upset with this arrangement as they felt it violated the seniority concept.
Cathy used to fly from the US to London. One day I said to her, “This whole language speaker issue doesn’t really affect you. You fly to London; there are no language speakers on those flights. Why do you care so much?” She said, “I believe in the concept of seniority. It doesn’t matter if I’m affected by language speakers. It’s the principle of the thing.” That’s consistency – and integrity — in action.
The career mentor point here is simple common sense. Successful people follow the advice in Tweet 62 in Success Tweets. “Your personal brand should be uniquely you, but built on integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.” When you build your brand on integrity, you’ll be more likely to succeed – as a leader like Dwight Eisenhower, or in whatever you choose to do.
I probably joined LinkedIn sometime in 2003 or 2004 since my first recommendation dates back to 2005. So it is safe to say I have a decade of experience with LinkedIn.
Thus, from the simple length of time I have been updating, my profile is somewhat epic, sometimes I get made fun of for having a “too complete” profile.
But more recently, as the LinkedIn profile quickly becomes the golden copy of a resume more and more folks ask for tips and tricks to making profiles … epic.
Today, someone asked if I could help him make a “Sweet Resume” on LinkedIn – this was a first.
Below are some of my techniques, they go a bit deeper than the simple stuff like complete the profile, add others colleagues, or add education, etc.
Many years ago (we won’t say how many) on the very first day of my first job, I got sent home from work.
It wasn’t because I made a huge error in performing the work.
It was because of what I was wearing.
I was totally embarrassed, but thankfully, I had a boss who took the time to open my eyes to a whole new world beyond my own reality.
Coming from the college campus, I had gotten compliments on my attire. After all, this was a step up from the traditional sweats most students like to wear.
But entering into the corporate world wearing a big shirt and leggings (sorry- this was the 80’s), I had the rudest awakening in my life.
My boss gently sat me down and then asked me to look around the office, noting what other people were wearing.
Suddenly, I saw a sea of suits and dresses that made my “grandiose” college outfit look completely out of place.
And more importantly, not very professional.
I felt like a fool, and left the office, shamefaced and chagrined as I made my way home.
Needless to say, my next clothing purchases were later that day in the business attire department at the local clothing store.
But this is an important reminder that as much as we may deny it, we humans are exceedingly very visual creatures, and appearances DO matter.
How we present ourselves to others in business settings shapes the very perception they form about us, and usually, this happens within the first few seconds.
But please note: I am not saying everyone needs to dress in a suit (which in many workplaces, is an antiquated dress code); instead, you should always take your cues from the company culture so you can meet the expectations of what the business expects as professional attire, whatever that might be.
Even more to the point: Someone else also once told me that we should always dress for one level up higher than our current job.
Care and attention to our appearance does not go unnoticed, and that visual image combined with our on-the-job performance, can make a big difference in being considered for promotions… or not.
If we don’t take care of our appearance, that sends a subtle message to others that perhaps we don’t quite have our whole game together. And that can raise doubts.
So it is really true that our careers really begin with with we wear.
This is an especially difficult concept for new graduates to grasp… as evidenced at a recent career talk. I was approached by a young adult afterwards who wondered, “Well, if who I am is how I dress, wouldn’t I want an employer to hire me for being the authentic me that I am?”
Admittedly, there is a grain of truth in this query, but the employer isn’t hiring a person for the individuality, but instead for the cultural fit with the organization. That means measuring up to the potential employer’s rules and expectations.
This situation is amplified because students have a difficult transition going from being in a social group composed of everyone of their same age group into a work setting where they are usually the youngest person on the block.
When that happens, the social mores and clothing cues commonly associated with the younger social set are at odds with a different set of standards within the work environment.
Learning to read cultural cues about acceptable attire in the workplace will help guide you in making acceptable clothing choices, and that will help you fit right in.
But for any interview setting, you should always dress the part for which you are hoping to be hired.
As one employer once told me, “Regardless of what their resume says, I’ll hire the first best-dressed person who walks through that door.”
Wow. Food for thought as to how what you wear can make or break your career.
Entrepreneurs can learn from the NBA Playoffs is the understanding that to beat the odds and challenges is to have a consistent drive and effort. You can’t become successful and achieve without the passion, drive, focus, and motivation. The NBA Playoffs is about teammates heading to make the championship. An entrepreneur must understand that it takes a team to win. It’s greater when you have a supportive organization to strive for that main goal, conquer a WIN. An entrepreneur needs to take away the winning ingredients of teamwork make the dream work. Overall, the NBA Playoffs has many symbolic messages that an entrepreneur can learn and adopt. The most important is nothing comes easy or overnight. You have to be consistent in everything you do, which results in success and victory.
The words you use are more powerful than you imagine. Most people greet each other with words that have no power. Think of the last time you heard someone else (or even yourself) respond to a greeting of “How are you?” with “Oh, I am doing so-so,” “Hanging in there,” “I’m surviving” or “Not too bad.” It probably wasn’t much past yesterday.
Try this: use words to change your situation, not to describe it.
First, the next time anyone asks, “How are you?” whether it’s someone at work or a cashier at the store, respond with strength. Give them an energetic, enthusiastic, “Great!” or “Terrific!”
It will be hard to do without a smile on your face, and you are likely to get one back. Second, you will likely feel a physical response of increased energy. Third, your words will send a message to your mind that will be consistent with feeling Great! or Terrific!
To see the results, you have to do this often and with sincere enthusiasm (not robotically). When you do, your subconscious mind will begin to act on what you are saying and begin to design your reality to be consistent with your thoughts and words.
Yoda from Star Wars, understood this when he commanded Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Speaking with power also creates a sense of accountability and commitment to get the best from yourself and others. Your challenge is to consciously avoid using words that are power killers. These words sap energy and commitment from your interactions, and ultimately, your actions.
First, eliminate these words from your vocabulary:
1. I can’t
5. I don’t think
6. I don’t have the time
8. I’m afraid of
9. I don’t believe
10. It’s impossible.
Omitting these words is not enough. A sports team needs more than just a good defense to win; it also needs a powerful offense. So, mobilize your own offensive assault with the words you choose.
Build positive mental connections and commitment by using these power builders:
1. I can
2. I will
3. Expect the best
5. I know
6. I will make the time
8. I am confident
9. I do believe
10. All things are possible.
The power of your actions is preceded by the power of your words. Speak with power to bring out the best in yourself and others.
Are you as confident as you’d like to be? Few people would answer “yes” to that question. But, according to Becky Blalock, author and former Fortune 500 executive, anyone can learn to be more confident. And it’s a skill we can teach ourselves.
Begin by forgetting the notion that confidence, leadership, and public speaking are abilities people are born with. In fact, research shows that being shy and cautious is the natural human state. “That’s how people in early times lived to pass on their genes, so it’s in our gene pool,” she says. “You had to be cautious to survive. But the things they needed to worry about then are not the things we need to worry about today.”
How do you teach yourself to be more confident? Here’s Blalock’s advice:
The average human has 65,000 thoughts every day, Blalock says, and 85 to 90 percent of them are negative–things to worry about or fear. “They’re warnings to yourself,” Blalock says, and left over from our cave-dwelling past. It makes sense–if we stick our hand in a flame our brain wants to make sure we don’t ever do that again. But this survival mechanism works against us because it causes us to focus on fears rather than hopes or dreams.
The point is to be aware that your brain works this way, and keep that negativity in proportion. “What you have to realize is your thoughts are just thoughts,” Blalock says. They don’t necessarily represent objective reality.
“There are so many people that I’ve asked, ‘What do you want to do? What do you want to be?’ and they would say, ‘I don’t know,'” Blalock says. “Knowing what you want is the key. Everything else you do should be leading you where you want to go.”
Begin the day by thinking about some of the things you have to be grateful for, Blalock advises. “Most of the 7 billion people in the world won’t have the opportunities you do,” she says. “If you start out with that perspective, you’ll be in the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.”
There’s a funny thing about comfort zones. If we step outside them on a regular basis, they expand. If we stay within them, they shrink. Avoid getting trapped inside a shrinking comfort zone by pushing yourself to do things that are outside it.
We’ve all had experiences where we’ve done something that terrified us, and then discovered it wasn’t so bad. In Blalock’s case, she was visiting a military base and had gotten to the top of the parachute-training tower for a practice jump. “They had me all hooked up, and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do this, I have a small child at home,'” she recalls. “The guy took his foot and pushed me off the tower. When I got out there I realized it wasn’t that bad.”
We won’t always have someone standing by to kick us out of our comfort zones, so we have to do it for ourselves. “Just act!” Blalock says.
If you’re running into opposition, questions, and doubts, there’s probably a good reason–you’re going somewhere. That doesn’t mean you should ignore warning signs, but it does mean you should put those negatives in perspective. If you don’t make changes, and challenge the status quo, no one will ever object to anything you do.
“It’s not failure that destroys our confidence, it’s not getting back up,” Blalock says. “Once we get back up, we’ve learned what doesn’t work and we can give it another try.” Blalock points out that the baseball players with the biggest home run records also have the biggest strikeout records. Taking more swings gets you where you want to go.
Whatever you’ve set out to do, there are likely others who’ve done it first and can offer you useful advice or at least serve as role models. Find those people and learn as much from them as you can.
“Your outlook–negative or positive–will be the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” Blalock says. “So be careful who you hang out with. Make sure you’re hanging out with people who encourage you and lift you up.”
When she quit her C-suite job to write books, she adds, some people were aghast and predicted that no one would read them while others were quite encouraging. It didn’t take her long to figure out that the encouraging friends were the ones she should gravitate toward.
In almost any situation, preparation can help boost your confidence. Have to give a speech? Practice it several times, record yourself, and listen. Meeting people for the first time? Check them and their organizations out on the Web, and check their social media profiles as well. “If you’re prepared you will be more confident,” Blalock says. “The Internet makes it so easy.”
There’s ample evidence by now that getting enough sleep, exercise, and good nutrition profoundly affects both your mood and your effectiveness. “Just moderate exercise three times a week for 20 minutes does so much for the hippocampus and is more effective than anything else for warding off Alzheimer’s and depression,” Blalock says. “Yet it always falls of the list when we’re prioritizing. While there are many things we can delegate, exercise isn’t one of them. If there were a way to do that, I would have figured it out by now.”
“This one is so simple,” Blalock says. “If you breathe heavily, it saturates your brain with oxygen and makes you more awake and aware. It’s very important in a tense situation because it will make you realize that you control your body, and not your unconscious mind. If you’re not practicing breathing, you should be.”
No, you shouldn’t pretend to have qualifications or experience that you don’t. But if you have most of the skills you need and can likely figure out the rest, don’t hang back. One company did a study to discover why fewer of its female employees were getting promotions than men. It turned out not to be so much a matter of bias as of confidence: If a man had about half the qualifications for a posted job he’d be likely to apply for it, while a woman would be likelier to wait till she had most or all of them. Don’t hold yourself back by assuming you need to have vast experience for a job or a piece of business before you go after it.
“Don’t assume people know what you want,” Blalock says. “You have to figure out what that is, and then educate them.”
Once people know what you want, and that you want their help, you may be surprised at how forthcoming they are. “People are really flattered when you ask for advice and support,” she says. “If someone says no you can always ask someone else. But in my experience, they rarely say no.”