Then there’s Amazon: Great customer service coupled with controversial employee treatment

It seems axiomatic that stellar treatment of employees boosts their favorable interactions with customers. Then there’s Amazon, whose highly-rated customer service seems to run headlong into controversial employee treatment.

How does this sync up?

An Inc. Magazine article about corporate culture offers some insight:

“Bezos notes that maintaining the startup culture enables the behemoth company to ‘remain vigilant and maintain a sense of urgency.’ That hunger drives Amazon to obsess over their customers to continuously find ways to add value to them. It also pushes them to experiment, make decisions quickly, and hop on trends early.”

Interpreting this story, the rationale for driving employees so hard (some say unfairly) is to ensure the best customer service outcomes. It’s clear that Amazon is moving forward quickly on many fronts. I just got same-day Prime delivery for a small extra charge. One-day free Prime delivery is becoming more common. Wasn’t it just yesterday that two-day delivery seemed extraordinarily fast?

A late 2018 businessinsider.com article shed some light on employee issues:

“Amazon has a reputation for having an intense company culture…In the past several years, various articles have surfaced in the media describing the company’s approach to inspiring performance from staff. For instance, in 2015, The New York Times published an article in which employees referred to Amazon’s work culture as ‘bruising.’ Bob Olson, a former Amazon Books Marketing employee, said then that ‘nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.’”

The article continues,

“More recently, the company has also come under fire from politicians like Bernie Sanders for what he characterized as inadequate benefits and pay. In response to that type of criticism, Amazon just boosted its  minimum wage in the US to $15 an hour…To get a better sense of what it’s really like to work at Amazon beyond the headlines, Business Insider sifted through hundreds of reviews submitted to job site Glassdoor within the last year. Here’s what employees have to say about the company these days…Amazon receives an above average rating of 3.8 [out of 5] as of October 2, 2018. This is up from its score of 3.4 in 2015.”

Businessinsider.com points out:

“Of the 25,009 current and former employees who have submitted Amazon reviews on Glassdoor, 74% said that they would recommend the company to a friend. Amazon also rates favorably on Glassdoor in other categories including CEO approval, culture and values, work-life balance, benefits, and career opportunities.”

Earlier in 2018, CBS reported,

“Amazon’s hyper-fast growth has fueled the need for workers at more than 150 warehouse locations across the globe. The jobs may often be welcome, but the pay and working conditions are ‘shocking’ and ‘demoralizing,’ according to one new first-hand account. 

What are takeaways from these observations offering different views of the company?

An article last May on Entrepreneur.com weighed in:

Company culture matters. Your company culture matters, not only to the employees working for you but to outside observers wondering what ethical ground your company stands on. Treating your employees poorly may result in negative press for your brand.”

It continues,

People want a reason to hate corporations. In general, people don’t like and don’t trust corporations. For example, about 63 percent of people find CEOs non-credible or only somewhat credible. Give them a reason to hate your business or distrust your CEO, and they’ll take it. In other words, even small slights or injustices could be magnified to disrupt the already-delicate relationship you have with your customers.”

And finally, the article points out,

Everything is open to the public. Finally, remember that virtually everything you do in your business is open to public scrutiny. You might make your employees sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or keep your email servers on lockdown, but an ex-employee with a bad taste in his mouth might still opt to anonymously report on the conditions of your workplace.”

The article concludes,

“Understanding the importance of your own company culture and the vulnerability of your internal policies and communications is vital if you want to maintain the public’s trust — as well as the satisfaction — and retention — of your workforce.”

I would add a couple observations:

  1. Amazon is making positive employee moves. Part of the battle is a continual effort to improve. We’ll see if/when/how Amazon continues to move in the right direction.
  2. It would be interesting to survey Amazon customers to determine their sentiments—e.g., would you rather have one-day shipping or see a more satisfied workforce? (I would rather have slower shipping that puts less pressure on employees.)

Given all the complexities of the Amazon experience, it will be intriguing to watch what happens going forward.

###

Which is more important—customers or employees?

That’s a chicken-and-egg question, because both are integral to a successful business. However, too many companies view employees as chattel— disregarding the important contribution they make and the ways to motivate them to perform better. Happy, fulfilled employees directly link to stellar customer service. They should be viewed and treated as golden assets to optimize their interactions with customers and other stakeholders.

Mark Lusky

Mark Lusky is a veteran writer, storyteller and author, with 40+ years of public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism experience.

Author of A Wandering Wondering Jew… and co-author of Don’t Get Mad, Get Leverage,  Mark (aka The Happy Curmudgeon) is the owner of a Denver-based marketing communications firm.

One thought

  1. I’m ambivalent about Amazon. I love the convenience, variety, and speed of delivery (who doesn’t?). However, employee salaries vs the exorbitant income of Bezos and the fact that part of the reason for that income is because Amazon pays no taxes is definitely a negative.
    It will be interesting to see the results if a survey.

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