Realistic Expectations

Quick, name the company that aspires to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company?” 

If you’re a customer of Amazon, you probably think they are at least in the running for this title.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index has ranked Amazon #1 in customer satisfaction for eight years in a row based on what customers say.  That and many other recognitions of Amazon are no accident.

So, when Jeff Bezos published his shareholder letter recently, he thanked “over 560,000 Amazonians who come to work every day with unrelenting customer obsession, ingenuity, and commitment to operational excellence.”

This post is not an ad for Amazon.  Rather, I want to share some excellent points from the Bezos letter:

  • Customer expectations are not static but always increasing.
  • The cycle of expected improvement is happening faster than ever before.
  • This phenomenon is happening not just in retail, but across all categories.
  • Staying ahead requires “high standards (widely deployed and at all levels of detail).”
  • High standards are teachable within the organization.
  • High standards are domain specific—so you must learn and teach high standards for inventing, customer care, hiring, operational processes, and so on.
  • Everyone has blind spots.
  • The first step is to recognize what high standards are within a domain.

So, obviously, it helps to hear from customers to understand what they want and how we’re doing in meeting their expectations.

But the often missed point that Bezos then discusses is understanding the scope of those high standards.  Scope defines what will be required in terms of operations and team behavior to bring those high standards into practice.

This is where leaders must be realistic.  Are our people aware of the specific standard?  Do they believe in it?  Are they trained in it?  Do they have sufficient motivation?  Are we giving them the operational tools to make it happen?  Do we accept the amount of time required to change our team’s behavior?  Have we communicated to the team a reasonable expectation about the time required to learn and implement the standard?

If we are unrealistic about the scope necessary to achieve high standards, the standard will die, or it will just be ignored.

Setting realistic expectations about high standards is essential to achieving them.  Good advice from Amazon.

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