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John Carter of Amazon

Nick is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

There are many articles recounting terrible experiences working for Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), and, though they may be aberrations, they are also probably true for the most part. However, there is one story from a long time ’Zoner that will help investors grasp the Jeff Bezos philosophy. The narrative comes from one of the last people anyone would ever suspect of going corporate, let alone thriving in the culture of “relentless improvement” that is Amazon.com.

Here is his story in his own words:

Originally I was trying to make it as a reporter, and that did not pay enough for me to have both warm water and food. [laughs] So I knew I had to do something, and began doing the fundraiser thing as well as training people at phone banks. Then I figured I would try this [Amazon] corporate call center gig and maybe it would be something I could do for a couple years.

By the end of the first week, I knew Amazon was going to be the last company I would ever work for. [NS: Why? Were you going to come back the next day and shoot everyone?] No! [laughs] I discovered that the philosophy of the company was right in line with mine. The thing I was so concerned about with a corporate job was thinking I’d have to sell my soul to do it. But in that first week, I saw how much effort we make to take care of people trying to get gifts to their grandkids – and that was what put me over the top. I remember thinking quite clearly that I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life – not working the phones the whole time – but if I could facilitate these moments, these experiences happening for the rest of my life, I could do that.

I was on the phone with a lady that wasn’t sure she was going to see another Christmas, and her grandkid was stopping by Christmas Eve on the family’s way through town to see the other grandma on Christmas Day. And she’s in a wheelchair and there were all these other family problems and complications. It was this horrible story, and the problem [for Amazon] was that the Atomic Purple Game Boy (I remember it to this day) had been lost in the mail and there weren’t anymore.

So, she was crying. I was crying. We were all bawling our eyes out. We didn’t know what was going to happen with little Billy and his present. I told her I would see if there was anything I could do and would get back to her. I talked with my supervisor about it, and we were both commiserating over the perfect storm of tragedy that had brought this on. Then I just had to get out of there for a couple hours and take a walk.

I start walking and I found myself across from a big downtown toy store, and I thought, “Well, I’ll just go look at the toys I’ve been hawking.” While wandering through the store, I saw an Atomic Purple Game Boy on the stack of returns. I snapped it up and went back to my supervisors and said, “I may have done something really stupid, but is there any way we can get this to that lady?” At first they were kind of shocked, but then said, “Well, yes, we can make that happen,” and we got it FedEx'd that afternoon (and, of course, the company reimbursed me for the sixty-some dollars).

The next day when I received the FedEx drop off notification, I gave the lady a call. “Hello, Ms. Jones, this is John from Amazon—” and then she started getting weepy again, but I told her, “There’s a package on your front porch.” So she went out on her front porch and all I hear on the phone is a roll, roll, roll, THUMP, and then this loud wail – but it wasn’t her falling down or anything, it was her freaking out that she had gotten the Atomic Purple Game Boy in time for little Billy’s Christmas.

At that point in my life, it had been the coolest thing I’d ever done for someone, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that any place else.

From day one Amazon told us that if you can make that moment happen for your customer, then make it happen and they will be loyal to the brand for life. You’re not just buying and selling product. You’re not just facilitating the delivery of goods. That is a person on the other end of the transaction who has worked their butt off to save a little bit of money to do something nice for themselves or a family member or for a friend to fulfill some need. When we can make it happen without any hitches great, but when we can delight them, when we can make a memory for them – that’s magic, right?

And that is what they told us in the first week. And I internalized that and thought, “This is something I can do.” Now I’ve been doing it for thirteen years at varying levels in the organization from handling the phones myself to teaching others how to handle the calls, to writing the curriculum – which helped us come out on top in the National Retail Federation Foundation customer service poll (yes, I’m still proud of that).

The thing to remember is that when people are disappointed it matters. People open up these boxes with expectations that have built over three months of saving up for a bike for little Suzie – and then the bike comes and it’s missing some parts. So here’s the magic moment, and instead of joy, they are crushed. So they contact Amazon – and they are hot, they’re comin’ in hot, “How could you…I’ve only got two days…$%&# you!” And the response has to be, “I am glad you called, I can fix this for you,” and then Amazon goes into action. That’s what you should hear when you contact Amazon. “Let’s see what I can do…Can I get you one in time…Can I get you something else.” Amazon wants to find a solution that will help the customer until they can get either what they need or what works.

When you call a lot of other customer service numbers you’re going to get a pre-programmed response. If you say this keyword you’re going to get this response, and if you say that keyword you are going to get that response. In contrast, at Amazon when something goes wrong we are going to find a creative solution when we can because we give a crap. The first lesson I learned in my Amazon training was the philosophy, “Care about the person.” People come to Amazon and not the competitors because they know if something goes wrong, and we can fix it, we are going to fix it.

When I came to Amazon I thought it was going to be all about the bottom line and dollars – and it largely is – but they’re smart about how to get to bottom lines and dollars. It’s not about cut, cut, cut. It’s about build, and grow, and fix, and improve, and iterate to perfection. If that costs a lot of money, then spend that until you get as close as you can to perfection because, once you have that, then what you have is a happiness machine. And I thought, I could devote the next 25 years of my life to this.

Each step of the way, I have been able to take that little Billy end user experience, that magic moment, that moment where “Wow, someone actually gave a crap about me and my family and my kid,” and made a career out of it. That’s why I stick. I stick because it matters. I stick because when I do my job right, people can feed their families. And when I do my job right, little Joey can get the GI Joe with a kung-fu grip on Christmas morning. And when I do my job right, that girl can get those books she needs to pass her nursing class. That’s why I do what I do.

For me, working at Amazon is about making moments happen for people.

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Nick Slepko has no position in any company mentioned here at the time of publication. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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