How Amazon applies learnings in CX to employee experience

In early 2015 I was asked to begin building a new team in Amazon’s HR Shared Services department focused on measuring and developing the way employees experience our services. I admit that the initial charter was somewhat daunting – to benchmark Amazon’s external customer experience and re-tool it to focus on creating a bar-raising experience for employees, managers, and HR every day.

Having joined the company almost 9 years ago precisely because I was such a happy Amazon retail customer, I was energised by the challenge.

Measuring internal customer experience goes far beyond just surveys (for an insightful read on how we think about such things here, see Jeff Bezos’ most recent shareholder letter). But we started with surveys knowing we could build from there. If you’re an Amazon customer, you’re likely already familiar with our “How’s My Driving” (HMD) question we ask you after an interaction with Customer Service: “Did I solve your problem?”

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We wanted to create a similar employee experience ethos, but knowing that not all employees reach out to us due to “problems” (e.g., many reach out to support positive things like onboarding a new hire, transferring an employee to a new role, or helping a new parent prepare to have their baby), we searched for a question that would capture the pinnacle of experience we’re looking to create.

We like to experiment at Amazon, so during our first dozen or so survey builds across various services in our catalogue, we tried out a number of questions, response scales, and survey lengths. Within a few months we were ready to conduct a formal experiment, so we cross-seeded 6 questions across 8 different surveys and collected enough data for a valid sample size.

We leveraged our HR Analytics team to perform a full Factor Analysis, so we could identify the items that performed best on reliability (Cronbach’s Alpha), validity (Eigenvalue), and robustness (Mean score). Perhaps counterintuitively, on the 3rd measure we were looking for questions that scored the lowest – implying it was the hardest experiential measure to achieve.

Among the questions tested – which included classics like Net Promoter Score, satisfaction, and effortlessness – our winner was a pleasant surprise: “Overall, my experience was frustration free”. A surprise, because we wondered whether simply creating a frustration-free experience (as opposed to a delightful experience, for example) may be perceived as a low experiential bar. And pleasant because the question aligned nicely with one of our top HR strategic imperatives, which is “to create a frustration-free employee experience”.

If you’ve ever received an Amazon delivery in Frustration-Free Packaging (FFP), you’ll understand where we picked up that peculiar phrase, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll understand why Amazon employees resonate with it as the benchmark for the ideal customer/employee experience. FFP seeks to take the clamshell-and-twist-tie agony of standard retail packaging and replace it with a simple tear-open package that’s fast, painless, and entirely recyclable.

So, I was delighted when “Frustration Free” became our anchor question. It was at once a high bar for the experiences we want to create, while remaining eminently “Amazonian” in tone. It was a time I was glad for our cultural norm of measuring rather than assuming, because left to my own devices I might have selected another anchor question and ended up with something that wouldn’t have resonated as well with our employees.

“Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design. I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.” – Jeff Bezos, 2016 Shareholder Letter

In partnership with the Shared Services & Outsourcing Network I’ll be publishing additional articles to share other insights we’ve picked up along the way, and other examples of what we’re doing with our survey findings, ultimately trying to reach beyond just the basics of survey data into the world of anecdote, unstructured feedback, and immersing ourselves in the employee experience in order to drive improvement. Connect with me direct on LinkedIn.