I recently read about techniques Amazon CEO’s Jeff Bezos uses to create a great customer experience and one has really stuck with me as a brilliant way to get the whole organization focused on creating a product users love. It is something I am planning to replicate and it can help any company create products that delight users and get them to switch from competitors.
According to the article, 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.” From the first days of Amazon, 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 considered.
Multiple benefits to the empty chair
There are at least three benefits of Bezos’ empty chair strategy:
- First, features and new products are evaluated through the customer’s perspective. Think of all the products that have come to market, particularly technology products, that did not have a clear value to customers.
- Second, it keeps you from putting in features that are not in your customer’s or player’s interest. If people would be embarrassed to discuss a feature or new product openly in front of a real customer, there is a problem with that feature. Products that work against the customer will fail immediately or be replaced by a product consistent with the user’s interests, over time there are no secrets in product design.
- Third, if the product is an improvement or substitute for an existing good, the empty chair forces you to understand if you are creating enough unique value to prompt the user to switch. By having the customer in the room, you need to consider whether that customer would use your product and why they would switch to it from their current product. Given that a product must be 5 or 9 times better to get someone to switch, you can use the empty chair to determine if and how your new offering is that much better.