Amazon’s CTO on how customer centricity drives innovation

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels

Amazon’s goal is to be the most customer-centric company on earth, said its chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, on stage at the WIRED Smarter conference in London yesterday.

“Focusing on the customer gives direction to our innovations,” he explained.

The business is mandated to always start from the customer and work backwards, including by writing a press release and a basic FAQ of what the end product or service will look like, before beginning to build it. Within that will always be why said focus is useful for the customer, Vogels noted, even if the customer today wouldn’t yet know it for themselves.

“We always think of innovation being this glitzy new stuff, but [we’re focused on] what the things are that our customers will all love, and love forever,” he emphasized. “We need to know that what we are building is exactly what they want.”

Keywords like convenience and price always therefore come into the decision making, he explained. “No one 10 years from now will say, ‘Oh I wish Amazon would be more expensive’.”

To do this, Vogels said the most important part of the internal culture at Amazon is about a willingness to continuously experiment.

“Decisions are most often two-way doors – you can mostly always back out again, but if you wait too long the opportunity might have already passed,” he noted. He talked to the idea of culture, learning from doing, taking risks, failing fast and, through relentless measurement, taking something from each step along the way as a result.

On that basis, he referenced a letter from Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, written to shareholders in 1997, that reads: “We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.”

As a recent example, with something like its voice technology, Amazon Alexa, the company was making a big bet, but it knew if the seed was going to grow it would make a big impact, Vogels explained. He referenced the flurry of new devices recently released by Amazon to bring this further into people’s homes, including a microwave and a smart plug.

“At Amazon we are strong believers that if we stop innovating, we will be dead in five to 10 years,” he added.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.