Jeff Bezos demonstrates – yet again – what it means to be customer centric and demonstrates Customer Service Lean Principles. In his Amazon 2012 Letter to Shareholders, he explains one of the main core values at Amazon: Customer Obsession. It shows in their customers service rankings, year after year. Indeed, they sometimes overdo customer service.
He does so masterfully, even sharing very specific examples of what they’ve done and how that approach is the right approach for the customer and the shareholder. In his letter, he specifically uses a term common in Lean Manufacturing – Andon Cord.
Let me describe what Jeff Bezos says and the examples he uses for how Amazon has implemented the principle of the Andon, and then I’ll explain the concept of Andon Cord more fully.
Customer Service Andon Cord
In his letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos says the following:
We build automated systems that look for occasions when we’ve provided a customer experience that isn’t up to our standards, and those systems then proactively refund customers. One industry observer recently received an automated email from us that said,
“We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental on Amazon Video On Demand: Casablanca. We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount: $2.99. We hope to see you again soon.”
Surprised by the proactive refund, he ended up writing about the experience: “Amazon ‘noticed that I experienced poor video playback…’ And they decided to give me a refund because of that? Wow…Talk about putting customers first.”
Then, Jeff Bezos continues with more examples of what Amazon does to delight the customer. He concludes with the following statement:
I can keep going – Kindle Fire’s FreeTime, our customer service Andon Cord, Amazon MP3’s AutoRip…
Here, Jeff Bezos calls his earlier description as Customer Service Andon Cord. Let’s explore that a bit.
What is an Andon Cord?
First highlighting some history will help give a fuller description of the principle of the Andon.
Sakichi Toyoda and the Automatic Loom
In the early days of Toyota Corporation, before it manufactured cars and automobiles, it manufactured sewing machines. Sakichi Toyoda, saw a need to solve the following problem:
- When the needle broke, the workers wouldn’t know it was broken until much later. This situation caused a problem in productivity.
Seeing a need to solve a very real problem, he developed what we now know as the Automatic Loom, which did the following:
- When the needle broke, the machine stopped.
The creation of the automatic loom that stopped when the needle broke solved the problem of loss of productivity and the problem of not knowing when to replace the needle.
The Principle of the Andon
In more modern usage of the word “Andon”, people often think of an Andon Cord, which is literally a cord that hangs above a car manufacturing line. It serves as a stop for when workers on the line observe problems. They, then, can “pull the andon” and the line stops. When it stops, Kaizen can begin. When countermeasures are put in place, the line begins again.
When you visit a Toyota plant, or other organizations where they have implemented Lean properly, you will see the Andon Cord, or other variants. But the point is this: Cord or no Cord, the principle of the Andon is an alert system that enables the following:
- The Principle of the Andon tells the human there’s a problem.
- The Principle of the Andon allows the human to stop a process and prevent the defect from continuing downstream.
Now, notice that the Automatic Loom was more “automatic” – in the sense that a human didn’t have to pull anything. Whereas the andon cord requires the human to pull the cord to stop the line. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but each falls in a continuum of maturity in the application of Lean Principles.
Jeff Bezos: Walk the Talk – Lean Manufacturing
Lean principles have taken such a hold on Amazon and on Jeff Bezos that job titles now contain terms often used in Lean Manufacturing. For example, Jeff Bezos’ comment on “Customer Service Andon” – well, it’s also a current job opening at Amazon:
To Improve the Customer Experience
When you have job openings containing terms used in Lean Manufacturing, you know that it’s more than just lip service: Amazon is serious about improving the customer experience and in putting the customer at the center of all it does.
For those interested, below is the job opening for the Product Manager, Andon Cord position:
US, WA, Seattle • Job ID 214369 • Amazon Corporate LLC
Amazon’s Customer Advocacy Team is looking for an experienced Product Manager that can work independently in a fast paced, ambiguous environment. As Product Manager, you will create and implement systems and processes to detect customer-facing defects and enable internal Amazon teams to fix them quickly the first time.
You will collaborate with business and development teams across the company to define functional requirements, design high level process and system solutions, and manage all aspects of the project execution – including writing business requirements, maintaining the project schedule, resolving or mitigating issues and risks, and communicating results throughout the organization. The successful candidate will be a person who works well with cross-functional teams of business managers, operations, and software development, has an extremely high level of customer focus and a passion for process improvement.
In addition, they enjoy and excel at diving into data to identify root causes, derive patterns, and determine long-term solutions that ensure superior customer experience.
- 3 to 5 years of program and/or product management experience.
- Experience developing business cases and successfully presenting to leadership.
- Bachelor’s degree in a technical, business, or analytical field (mathematics, CS, engineering or related field).
- Innovative product manager with superior analytical abilities and a curiosity to dig several layers deep into metrics to identify trends and root causes.
- Comfortable interacting with cross-disciplinary technical and non-technical teams in order to design new technical solutions and processes, meet schedules and resolve or mitigate issues.
- Strong organizational and multitasking skills with ability to balance competing priorities.
- Excellent written and oral communication skills including an ability to communicate with all levels in the organization (technical, business, executive).
- Familiarity with general Customer Service principles and practices preferred.
- Knowledge of SQL preferred.