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A bucket of water and a sponge

Richard Howorth, Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi

Richard Howorth, Square Books, Oxford, Mississippi

Richard Howorth from Square Books in Oxford Mississippi who was one of the speakers at a booksellers workshop in Portland attended by Jeff Bezos in September 1984, ten months before he launched Amazon.com.

Richard recounts the story of a time in his bookstore when one of his employees said they had a very angry customer on the ground floor. The woman had parked her car in front of his bookstore and dirt from a window box, on the shop’s balcony, had fallen onto its bonnet.  He placates her by suggesting they both get in her car and drive round to the local carwash, where he will pay to have her car washed.  They arrive to discover the car wash is closed for servicing.  He suggests she drives to his home and he will wash the car himself.  She does this and Richard goes in to his home fetches a big bucket of water and a sponge and restores her car up to a pristine shine.

Returning to the store she is a transformed customer and the following day makes a substantial purchase of books.

Listening to his story Jeff realises his new internet business will have no physical presence, so Amazon’s customer service will have to be exceptional to retain their loyalty. This means easy returns, quick shipping, good discounts, competitive pricing, helpful reviews and a huge choice.

After successful beta testing in early 1995 the Amazon site is launched that summer as ‘earth’s biggest bookstore’.

Amazon’s first web page. In 1995 it simply sold books.

Amazon’s first web page. In 1995 it simply sold books.

Jeff Bezos’s business goal at the end of 1995 is to create enough profit in Amazon to buy a forklift truck for his warehouse.

So how did he get from dreaming about forklift trucks, to funding his own billion pound rocket programme that is exploring the viability of building space communities for half a million people?

Well, I believe it comes down to seven words. Behind the code, the sheer volume of products they sell, the Amazon drones, Prime Delivery and the scale of a global company that now employs 613,300 people are seven simple words that glue the whole enterprise together:

Amazon is obsessed with great customer service

Jeff learned that one business lesson from Richard Howorth all those years earlier in Portland and from that moment his goal was to develop the world’s most customer-centric business. Interviewed many years later, Richard Howorth wryly commented ‘ I don’t think Jeff ever washed a customer’s car’ Maybe not, but his lesson about delivering great customer service was learnt. In a parallel universe I like to think Richard Howorth was offered a few shares in Amazon as a small thank you………

Rocket Man

Rocket Man

Kevin RedpathComment