I prefer “people businesses” – OR – Why Amazon bought Zappos

Wow – that title seems to be a mess, doesn’t it?

It actually is a mess.  Amazon, a company that doesn’t talk to their customers bought a company that is renowned for talking to their customers.


Why would they?  Perhaps they know they have something to learn about being a “people business”.

Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon made that pretty clear to me with this blog post from several days ago.  Link is at the end of this post, excerpt is as follows:

Once a year however we take a moment to make sure that everyone who wants to give their input into the direction of the Amazon Web Services has the opportunity to do so.

Once a year?  Really?  That is not a “people business”.  That isn’t really even trying.  That is a poor effort at outreach – even by Amazon standards.

How often does my employer measure engagement and or satisfaction?  After every chat, or call.  Or ticket.  By being active on Twitter – because our customers are there.  By providing real people to talk to 24/7 – people that can actually help.  People.

By answering the phone when our customers call.  By caring for each of them as if they were our largest customer.

We also bring a lot of customers to the Rackspace HQ every year to help us learn how to get better.  And our CEO puts his number out on Twitter.  People.

You can build a business on technology – I’ve learned that.  But you build a following through people.

Tony Hsieh knows that.  Perhaps Amazon is looking to learn something here.  Let’s hope!

Good luck, Zappos – you got a lot of educating to do!

Feedback for Amazon Web Services


  1. @Werner –

    You raise some valid points, but you are also adding some confusion to the discussion. The link you provided that ranked you on customer service has NOTHING to do with AWS, specifically – in fact, the report mentions, “The 2009 list also reveals that consumers are focused on getting value for their money in these tough times. While luxury hotels and upscale car brands were recognized again, the discount prices and one-stop service model of Amazon.com (AMZN) propelled it to the top spot this year.”

    That is hardly discussing customer service – it is granting kudos for cheap and easy. Fine – I give you that. But when things don’t work as advertised, things get difficult for the consumer – because there is no easy way to get help. Ask me about my Wii purchase on Amazon a couple Christmas’s ago! There was no way for me to get help from Amazon at 7pm on Christmas Eve when the “guaranteed shipping” did not arrive.

    As for your other points – why did I pick one line? That’s obvious – it was a telling line (IMHO). You may very well “collect data” from a lot of sources – but I find you much less than engaging with customers.

    And just to be sure, I just double-checked. There is no phone number on the AWS site. No live chat. Nothing I can find.

    Yes, I CAN purchase support – but as a customer spending $20/month on AWS, I can’t afford the support costs in relation to what I use.

    You can blame me for perhaps sensationalizing – but you won”t, I hope, claim to be engaged with your AWS customers. At least not the ones that are spending less than thousands a month on AWS.


  2. Rob, after reading your post I can only imagine that you probably have not been fully informed about the quality of Amazon’s customer engagement. We aspire to be the “world most customers centric” company and we work very hard to achieve that in our retail as well as in our technology business. For what our customers think about the quality of our customer service compared to others you should take a look at the business week survey from earlier this year. It will probably surprise you.


    I cannot but wonder why you picked that one sentence out of posting that is all about how we *continuously* solicit input from our customers.

    “We collect this feedback continuously from various sources: the AWS forums, the AWS Premium Support Team, Amazonians on the road talking to customers, solution architects helping to define customer architectures, ISV partners building on our services, system integration partners who relay customer needs, advisory boards, and of course the Amazon ecommerce engineers building on the AWS platform.”

    We run the survey once a year to reach out to folks who may not normally talk to us. For example customers that would like to use AWS but are not yet that far.

    Our customers are continuously involved in setting and adjusting the AWS road map, making sure that we prioritize things that really matter to them.

  3. Paul Claessen says:

    I agree, that would have made it far worse! 😉

  4. Disingenuous would have been not including the link to the original.

  5. Paul Claessen says:

    Woa.. openly disingenuous 1) quote mining to discredit the competition can get you into trouble, my friend!

    1) disingenuous: you quote ONE sentence to make it sound as if they only listen to their customers once a year, and you take that from a post that starts with “Ingrained in the DNA of the Amazon Technologist is a single-minded focus on the needs of our customers” which then spends a whole paragraph on all the things they do to constantly and continuously remain aware of their customers’ needs.
    That’s a game you probably don’t want to play. It’ll cost you ‘fair play’ points!