customer relationship management

Amazon and Customer Relationship Management

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims he does not recognize the Amazon depicted in the New York Times story, which described the company as a "bruising workplace."

A Facebook friend posted, "Just purchased items today from Amazon before reading about how it treats its employees. This will be my last order from Amazon."

The post succinctly captures the challenge Amazon and other businesses with questionable workplace standards will face as consumers act on their "relationships" with these companies. It is the downside, if you will, of customer relationship management.

You can spend a lot of time and energy currying relationships with customers, only to see it flash away with a "crisis of confidence" in the relationship. Amazon offers great customer service and value, but it it comes at a price of running the equivalent of a huge sweat shop, then no thanks.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has mounted a vigorous defense of his company and its culture, which the Times' story headline called a "bruising workplace." In a communication to Amazon staff members following the New York Times exposé that relied on interviews of 100 former company employees, Bezos said he wouldn't want to work for a company with the traits described in the article. But he also said that isn't the company he knows as Amazon.

While wise to engage quickly and unreservedly about the issue, Amazon will have to do more than talk about the true nature of its culture. To win back some disenchanted customers, it will need to demonstrate that isn't the company's culture – or won't be any longer.

The distasteful picture of a day in the life of an Amazon worker was magnified by a contemporaneous Netflix announcement that it would grant up to a year's leave for new fathers and mothers. This employee decision was designed in large part to retain and recruit top-flight young talent. But it also showed a positive face externally to Netflix customers. The decision aided customer bonding.

Even by Bezos description over the years of what makes Amazon tick, it is clear the company places innovation and customer service above all else. It may not quite as simplistic as Donald Trump's "I'm a winner and you're a loser" mantra, but it isn't warm and fuzzy either.

Perhaps you can't become the world's largest retailer by being warm and fuzzy, but by the same token you may not keep all your customers by telling a woman who suffered a miscarriage to go on a work trip the next day.

Amazon is extraordinarily true to its brand promise. But as Wal-Mart has discovered, what it takes to achieve your brand promise can get in the way of customer relationships.

Package Your Information Like a Gift

Make sure your information is a gift your customers can't wait to open. 

Make sure your information is a gift your customers can't wait to open. 

Everyone likes to receive gifts, especially when they are packaged neatly with a card and wrapped in brightly colored paper and a pretty ribbon. You should think about packaging information the same way.

It’s not just about making things look pretty. The way you present your information directly impacts how likely your target audience is to hear what you're saying. You can make your information inviting by following the basic steps of wrapping a gift.

  1. Pick the right size box – The size of the box should match the amount of information inside. While little kids get excited about big packages, most people appreciate a box they can get their hands around. Some of the most excited reactions come from opening small, ring-size boxes. Skillful editing will help your viewers focus. Only include your most interesting informational gems and put aside less important items. 
  2. Choose your paper and ribbon carefully – Don’t forget about the visual way you present your information. Make sure the layout you choose draws in your audience. A bright headline and smart copy also attracts attention. You want to make the wrapping so inviting that viewers cannot resist opening your package right away.
  3. Protect the contents in the box – Just as you would place protective material to secure a gift, surround your valuable information with supportive material – links, video, SlideShares, podcasts and images. You want your gift recipients to rush to open the box, but to notice the care by which you packaged it. Providing supportive materials makes it easy for them to go back and find useful context or more deeply layered information.
  4. Deliver the package in person – While it is fun to see a package waiting by your front door when you arrive home, nothing compares to the impact of a friend handing you a gift. Building a relationship with your customers means they are hearing from a friend, not a stranger. Further personalize your information-sharing, through including a personal greeting, customized content or an offer for interactivity.
  5. Give a gift that's useful – The gifts that are most welcome are ones that fill a need. Make your information useful and relevant to your audience. Engaging your audience regularly will ensure you know what is at the top of their wish list. 
  6. Make your gift a party – Gifts are most fun when they are given at a party. Create some excitement around your information with an event, a contest or a milestone celebration. 

As with any gift, it really is the thought that counts. Always keep your customers in mind when creating and packaging your information. 

Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish

Delta Airlines proved the old adage true last week that trying to squeeze a penny out of a sale can bring down a ton of bad press.

A YouTube video titled "Delta Airlines Welcomes Soldiers Home" shows two soldiers returning from Afghanistan who say the airline charged them $200 apiece for a fourth piece of luggage, which contained their military-issued weapons.

As the Associated Press reported: With a bite to his voice, Sergeant Fred Hilliker of Allendale, Mich. closes the video: "Good business model, Delta. Thank you. We're actually happy to be back to America. God bless America. Not happy, not happy at all. Appreciate it. Thank you."

The video was posted Tuesday and by the next day there was a Facebook page calling for a boycott of Delta Airlines.

Airline officials responded quickly by apologizing to the soldiers and modifying their baggage charge policy for returning soldiers, but apparently not before some dissembling and confusing steps to get reimbursement for the charges from the Department of Defense for the charges.

Apparently Delta isn't alone in charging soldiers for more than three bags. But that doesn't make the policy any savvier.

"The incident underscores how quickly a company's reputation can be tarnished when a Web video, online picture or posting goes viral," observed the AP reporter covering the story. "Airline passengers have made no secret of their hatred of baggage fees, which have become common in recent years."

Instead of a lame blog posted by an anonymous customer service representative, Delta Airlines would be better off empowering its front-line employees to make smart decisions at the point of customer contact. And if you don't want to rely on the wisdom of airline clerks, then the top brass should be alert to how company policies can explode in their face.

Ask for Their Innovations

Most of us are proud of our products and services and feel good about the consumers who purchase them. We could feel even better by asking our customers how they creatively use our products and services.We may not uncover "brilliant failures" such as Viagra or post-it notes, but we may discover innovations that add value to our products and services – and put more cash in our pocket.

In a recent blog post about innovation, the writer noted a motorist suggested an interesting variation for the common traffic stop light. The motorist's idea was to design a traffic light with a progress bar, showing how much time is left before a green light turns to yellow, a useful data point for someone assessing whether to power through a light or stop.

Starbucks asks its coffee-sippers for bright ideas on its My Starbucks Idea.

A colleague in the PR field noted his long-time clients in the construction and real estate industry were signing up for less media relations, but continuously asking for more introductions to people in the industry. The shift reflects the downsizing of traditional media outlets and the rising value of direct contact with potential customers and business partners. My colleague needs to adjust his business model accordingly.

The Power of Consistently Stellar Service

When I was in high school, I worked for my uncle’s grocery store in Northern California. The store’s been in my family for more than 50 years. I was so excited to become part of a family tradition that happened to include a paycheck.

Watching my father work in the produce department, rarely taking breaks, and not stopping until everything was perfect, I saw what the saying –“if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”– looks like in action. When my grandmother would head to work before sunrise, I saw what a “strong work ethic” looks like. And, when my grandfather spoke to customers with genuine care and desire to help, I saw “relationship management.”

Tracking Your Reputation Online

Online, users can receive customer service (think Comcast and Twitter), have personally relevant experiences (think Amazon recommendations and targeted Facebook ads) and make their voices heard when they've had a positive or negative experience (think Yelp).

We now look to online resources to help us make decisions on everything from which new restaurant to try to what hotel to book.