Caught On Tape:
The Genius of Jeff Bezos

In this 1999 interview, a young Jeff Bezos demonstrates what it really looks like when you put customer experience at the heart of your business.


Twenty years ago, Jeff Bezos sat down for a television interview with a CNBC reporter.  At the time, Amazon had been in business for just five years, was spending aggressively to expand its operation, and had yet to make a single dollar of profit.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this CNBC reporter displayed more than a bit of skepticism with Bezos’ business strategy.  After all, this was the height of the dot com bubble, when Internet startups (and even well-established companies) promised the world to investors, pointing to all of the business opportunities unleashed by eCommerce.

This is what makes the clip below so entertaining to watch.  It perfectly encapsulates Bezos’ simple and unwavering belief in the customer experience — even in the face of businesspeople who simply couldn’t grasp the payoff from such a strategy.  (This is also why the clip is timeless – since that skepticism persists in many circles today.)



Let’s unpack two key quotes from this clip which illustrate just how far ahead of his time Bezos was:


“If there’s one thing is about, it’s obsessive attention to the customer experience, end-to-end.”

Bezos’ mere use of the term “customer experience” was progressive at the time.  These days, it’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in the workplace and has achieved something of buzzword status.  Back in 1999, however, it was rare to hear a company executive (let alone a CEO) utter those words.

Yet Bezos’ quote is arguably as progressive today as it was twenty years ago, given the “end-to-end” clarifier he added to the remark.  He understood the holistic nature of the customer experience, the idea that it was comprised of every live, print and digital touchpoint encountered by an Amazon customer.

Even today, that appreciation for the sheer scope of the customer experience is something that eludes many business leaders – as evidenced, for example, by all the people who view “customer experience” and “customer service” as interchangeable terms (they’re not, and you can learn why here).


“[Investors] should be investing in a company that obsesses over customer experience.  In the long term, there is never any misalignment between customer interests and shareholder interests.”

It’s in this section of the interview where the CNBC reporter appears most incredulous, scoffing at Bezos’ assertion that investors should not look for pure Internet plays, but rather, should focus on companies that obsess over customer experience.

Sadly, not much has changed in twenty years.  We still live in a world where, in many situations, business executives believe they must make a binary choice between either serving customers’ interests or serving shareholders’ interests.

Bezos rightfully saw that as a false choice, and instead viewed the satisfaction of customers and shareholders as inextricably linked.  (His sentiment echoes that of another customer experience visionary, Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher, who famously declared – in front of Wall Street analysts – that Southwest’s priorities were “Employees first, customers second, shareholders third.”)

As Watermark’s own research has demonstrated (see our “Customer Experience ROI Study”) Bezos and Kelleher were onto something.  Over the long-term, companies that excel in customer experience tend to outperform the market and their peers.  A great experience isn’t just good for customers, it’s good for shareholders, too.


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Jeff Bezos is obviously a brilliant strategist, but what’s truly impressive is how he embraced the concept of customer experience decades before the term entered the business world’s vernacular.

The views Bezos articulated in this decades-old TV interview remain progressive, as does his steadfast commitment to orienting Amazon around the customer experience.  His time-tested, pioneering approach to customer experience serves as a model that other business leaders would be wise to emulate.


Jon Picoult is the founder of customer experience advisory firm Watermark Consulting.  As a consultant and a speaker, he’s worked with the CEOs and executive teams of some of the world’s top brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Subscribe to his eNewsletter.


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