Customer Service for Developers Lesson #1: Jeff Bezos is the Chumby Incarnate

Jeff Bezos is the chumby incarnate, soft and cute, everyone just loves his optimistically upbeat rhetoric that consistently underscores Amazon.com’s charter to “fulfil the promises we make to our customers”. Packaged with his earnest demeanour and the pleading innocence of his prey-animal eyes, he makes a captivating spokesperson. Some of my favourite Bezos quotes include:

“We’re not trying to be a book company or trying to be a music company we’re trying to be a customer company”

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

“We have so many customers who treat us so well, and we have the right kind of culture that obsesses over the customer

“I love people counting on me, and so, you know, today it’s so easy to be motivated, because we have millions of customers counting on us at Amazon.com. That’s fun.”

Obviously he has some sort of sick fascination with pleasing customers! He drops the C-bomb so often I wonder if he’s a bit of a bore? Surely he must drive his family around the bend with his attentive listening, stirring empathy, prompt responsiveness and soothing reassurance.

[dinner in the Bezos household]

Mrs Bezos [through gritted teeth]: “Jeff could you pass the salt please?”

Jeff [raised brows / puppy dog eyes / earnest]: “You might also like pepper… customers who want salt also use pepper!”

Of course it’s easy to write off Bezos’ behaviour as bogus good-cheer, but I think he’s a fine role model for software developers. A healthy dose of Bezonian customer service is just the thing an otherwise proficient software developer needs to really move his/her career along more rapidly.

But what relevance does customer service have to the day to day activities of a software developer? Consider this:

Everyone is your customer

I once saw Bezos interviewed in Amazon.com’s offices; he is seen spreading joy throughout with his weird laugh while bantering and back slapping in the cafeteria line with the regular Joes. His friendly disposition indicates a real desire to understand and to serve the people he comes into contact with. I think this is a great mindset to take into the work environment. Even if a software developer isn’t dealing directly with “real” customers why not broaden the definition of “customer” to include everyone inside and outside the organisation from the CEO to the cleaner.

When you encounter the office cleaner during a late night coding session, do you say hello? Do you move your seat so he can easily get to your bin? Perhaps you hand him the bin? Even if you never come into direct contact with the cleaner at night, do you think about what you’re throwing out during the day? A half full drink container thoughtlessly tossed in the bin might make a nasty mess for the unsuspecting cleaner to attend to long after you’ve gone home.

Many developers display innate customer service instincts. Perhaps more than any other group, software developers will toil away in their personal time to improve the end-user experience of their software for customers they’ll never even meet. Among developers there are those who are always ready to sit down and tiger team a problem with a colleague who is stuck. Or they’ll drop everything to assist someone from accounts who can’t setup their printer. They’ll even patiently setup their great aunt’s internet connection, knowingly exposing themselves to months of tedious phone calls to explain how to send an email or view a video.

Perhaps among your own co-workers there are those who seem to be naturally selected for more rapid career progression. They become team leaders and branch out into consulting and pre-sales, or even (heaven forbid) management. Even if their ambitions are fulfilled by a career of cutting code, they have more ability to cherry pick projects and greater influence over their work conditions and remuneration.

If you feel your hard work is not getting its deserved recognition, take a leaf out of Jeff Bezos’ kindle and aim for more customer-centric interactions with your immediate circle.