What Terrifies The Richest Man in the World?

Jeff Bezos wrote, in his 1998 annual letter to investors and employees, that he expected his team members to wake up every morning terrified. He wanted them to be hyper-sensitive to the fact that their loyal customers could very well leave them in a moments notice for someone else that “offers them a better service.”

Notice that he didn’t say:

  • A better price
  • A better product
  • A better promise

He said that he believed their customers would leave for a better service. Therefore, it was imperative that they build a company that was committed to “constant improvement, experimentation, and innovation in every initiative.”

Amazon.com was barely four years old when he wrote that letter.  The company had over 2,100 employees and had served a cumulative 6.2 million customers.  Today, the company has more than 500,000 workers and has over 310 million active customers worldwide.  Recently, there has been some excellent CNBC coverage of the company’s hiring standards – guided by Jeff’s comments in the same 1998 letter.

But, what about that call to be terrified — to create a service for people to remain loyal? I think that may have been the most crucial part of his letter.

Today, that Amazon drive to improve, experiment, and innovate has generated over 90 million people who have signed up to pay an annual fee for the privilege of shopping!  Yes, I know that Prime Membership comes with plenty of bells and whistles, but in reality, it is virtually like paying for an admission ticket to the mall.  Either way, it works for Amazon and customers love it!


You and I may not have a business plan as ambitious as Jeff Bezos. The likelihood of our service going global to even 30 Million people is not what we have in mind.  You might be thinking that it would be fantastic if you could build a business of 30,000 loyal customers.  Whatever, our goals – the question we need to ask ourselves is: “Am I terrified?”

The only way we are going to remain relevant and competitive is to be relationally focused and exceptionally responsive.

I met a man a few weeks ago that told me that his business has increased by 35% during the last year only because they respond to emails and voicemails within a maximum of 2-3 hours.  He said, “In some cases, I’ve had customers tell me that we were the only people who even responded to them. Wow, all we did was return a call, and we got the business because the competition apparently didn’t need the business!”

Do you have a reputation for exceptional service or are you perceived as a good option until something better comes along?  Would your customers be willing to pay a premium to do business with you?

The loyalty of your customers will be proportionate to the loyalty you provide to them.


Take some time to get terrified! 

Do a complete evaluation of your customer service – from the first contact to the follow up after you’ve delivered what you promised.  Here are few ideas to Prime your thought process.  (See what I did there?)

1) How am I offering a better service to my external and internal customers?

2) Improvement:  What can I improve?

3) Experiment:  Something I would like to do that would “Wow” my customer is….

4) Innovation: What one thing could I offer that would make doing business with me easier for my customer? 

~  Steven Iwersen  |  Keynote Speaker, Author of “The Porcupine Principles!”, Relational Leadership Expert

Book Steven for your upcoming event or a special training session for your team – email [email protected] or call 913-406-3824.

Steven is the author of The Porcupine Principles.