Amazon, “customer obsession” being Amazon’s leadership principle number

Amazon, the most valuable retailer in the United States, is aspiring to
grow even larger in the coming years. This ambition is fuelled by the
performance-oriented individuals that work at Amazon. To accomplish this desire
of dominating the retail market, Amazon has a peculiar corporate culture that
uses a unique way to manage the employees. These employees, often called
Amazonians, are motivated in a controversial way that is hated and loved by
many. The New York Times article “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a
Bruising Workplace” (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015) addresses Amazon’s peculiar
way of working.

Amazon really pushes their workers to their limits; the workload is
high, and so is the employee turnover rate. A lot is being expected from the
workers; Amazon aims at pushing workers to go beyond what they think is
possible. This pressure is the main cause many workers quit. Yet, many workers
also experience this pressure as motivating; they perceive it as a very
stimulating way of getting things done. One employee was cited: “I was so
addicted to wanting to be successful there. For those of us who went to work
there, it was like a drug that we could get self-worth from.” Workers are even
encouraged to anonymously submit feedback forms to the managers about each
other. As a result, it develops an even larger pressure to perform better (Kantor
& Streitfeld, 2015).

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In addition, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has designed fourteen leadership
principles that exactly describes what is expected from the employees. These
principles can be considered as rules for all business activities, including
meetings, customer service, hiring etc. Amazon makes sure that every employee
is aware of these guidelines. They put pressure on the employees and keep high
expectations (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015).

While other large firms like Google and Facebook tend to stimulate their
employees through gyms, meals and salary bonuses, Amazon expects their workers
to be motivated by customer delight. With “customer obsession” being Amazon’s
leadership principle number one, Amazon emphasises the high value of customer
delight. Therefore, Amazonians are being taught that a pleased customer is the
best way to be compensated for their work (Kantor & Streitfeld, 2015).

The combination of maintaining strong leadership principles, allowing
anonymous feedback, and striving for the best possible customer delight is what
truly defines Amazon’s way of working. It is no doubt that Amazon has become
the largest U.S. retailer due to its strong corporate culture. Amazon claims
that customer delight is the most valuable reward an employee can get (Kantor
& Streitfeld, 2015). But is this really the case?

Many researches have evaluated the effects of employee behaviour on the
customer. For instance, Mohr and Bitner (1995) found that customer delight is
caused by employee effort. Besides, studies by Bitner et al. (1990) have shown
that customer satisfaction is caused by employees’ unsolicited and spontaneous
responses to requests. Yet, there has been little research on the effects of
customer delight on employees’ job satisfaction.

Hence, the purpose of this research is to evaluate this rather under
researched area. This paper aims to explore the research question: To what
extent does customer delight lead to employees’ job satisfaction. To do so, it
will reflect on the case Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising
Workplace. The remaining of the paper will discuss the application of the two
theoretical constructs and their relevance in the Amazon case, followed by a
proposed study.


This research paper examines the relationship between the two
theoretical constructs customer delight and job satisfaction. The aim of this
section is to define the theoretical background and analyse their relevance to
the Amazon case.


Oliver et al. (1997) defined customer delight as a “profoundly positive
emotional state generally resulting from having one’s expectations exceeded”.
It is important to note that it is different from customer satisfaction, as it
is not just the act of providing the customer a satisfactory experience, but
creating a feeling of extreme pleasure. There is evidence that shows that
customer delight is of great value for companies. It has a large impact on the
loyalty of customers; customers tend to bind themselves to brands that evoke
customer delight. This results in repeat purchasing, thus higher revenues (Anderson
and Sullivan 1993). In addition, delighted customers tend to share their
positive experience through word of mouth, creating a beneficial advertising
strategy that allows more consumers to get to know the company. This, in turn,
leads to a competitive advantage in the market (Anderson, Fornell, and Lehmann
1994; Bernhardt, Donthu, and Kennett 2000).

To continue, there are two common definitions of job satisfaction. Locke
(1967) defined job satisfaction as “a pleasurable or positive emotional state
resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences”. In addition,
Spector (1997) described it as “the extent to which people like (satisfaction)
or dislike (dissatisfaction) their jobs”. Both definitions concern the emotions
an employee has for their job, or aspects of their job. It indicates whether an
employee is excited or reluctant to work. This too is an important factor of a
company’s performance, because it determines the motivation and productivity of
employees. Additionally, it affects the company’s employee turnover (Spector 1997).


The interaction between a customer and a front-line employee has a direct
impact on the employee. There are two theories that elucidate this phenomenon,
the broaden-and-build theory and the emotional contagion theory.

The broaden-and-build theory by Fredrickson (2001) suggests that
positive emotions “broaden an individual’s momentary thought-action
repertoire”. These broadened mindsets help to develop a more creative and
productive work ethic. Positive emotions are essential for optimising an employee’s
workflow. In essence, the theory proposes that positive emotions lead to more
flexible, creative and efficient employees. These improved skills may, in turn,
lead to improved job satisfaction, as targets can be met quicker (Fredrickson,

Moreover, the emotional contagion theory (Hatfield et al., 1994)
suggests that the exposure to someone signifying a certain emotional state has
a corresponding effect on the emotional state of the observer. It implies that
customers who are exposed to employees’ positive emotions are more satisfied,
and vice versa. Humans tend to mimic the emotional state of the person in front
of them (Hatfield et al., 1994).

Combining these theories helps to answer the research question of the
paper. The broaden-and-build theory clarifies how the positive emotions lead to
an improved skills and productiveness, which in turn, might lead to job
satisfaction. Furthermore, the emotional contagion theory indicates that
observing positive emotions creates positive emotions within the observer, ultimately
leading to improved job satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2013).

Application to the case

Within Amazon, customer delight is central.
Number one of Amazon’s 14 leadership principles indicates that employees at
Amazon are expected to have a “customer obsession”. Bezos puts emphasis on the
relentless striving to please customers. Amazon is a customer delight-oriented
organisation that encourages its employees to go above and beyond customer
expectations. Amazonians are even expected to desire customer delight as a
reward for good service. The contagion theory by Hatfield et al. (1994) serves
as a clarification that can help explain this. It suggests that an individual’s
emotions directly cause another individual to have similar emotions. This is relevant
to Amazon’s customer obsession, because it clarifies that there is a positive correlation
between triggering positive emotions in customers and positive emotions of the employees.

Consequently, this positive state of mind contributes
to job satisfaction. According to Fredrickson’s (2001) broaden-and-build theory,
positive emotions have a beneficial effect on skills and resources. Fredrickson
suggests that positive emotions therefore positively affect job satisfaction. This
too is in line with Amazon’s philosophy, which advocates the tremendous value and
importance of customer delight to employees.

Design and Methodology

Studying the effects of customer delight on employees’ job satisfaction
requires both theoretical constructs to be examined. Job satisfaction has
already been measured in a research by Johlke, Duhan, Howell, & Wilkes
(2000). This can be considered a validated measurement, and could therefore be
utilised in this research. Since little relevant research has been done on
customer delight that is of value for this paper, a study is proposed. The
purpose of this section is to introduce and explain this proposed study.

Method and design

To measure the effect of customer delight on employees’ job
satisfaction, a quantitative research can be conducted. Measuring customer
delight is a complex model that includes many variables. Therefore, a research
with a cross-sectional design should be conducted. This methodology is relevant
for answering the research questions because of a couple of reasons. First, it
can observe the possible patterns of relationship and correlation. Second, this
design relies on already existing differences, rather than random allocation.
Third, it allows the use of survey techniques, which is relatively inexpensive.
Lastly, it gives a clear understanding of the relation between the variables at
a certain point in time.

Additionally, to achieve appropriate results that represent the reality,
this quantitative research can be conducted by collecting data through
questionnaire surveys. To make sure no variables are unintentionally
influenced, a homogeneous group should be assigned to fill in the surveys.
Therefore, the target group are front-line employees that have direct contact
with customers (e.g. medical care, retail sales, hair & beauty). Recruiters
of different organizations will be asked to instruct all their front-line
employees to the online survey. Since it is not too complicated to moderate the
online surveys, it is possible to aim for a sample size of 500. This will be
sufficient for estimating the general prevalence of the findings. To make sure
the survey can be considered as effective, a draft survey can first be examined
through pilot testing.


The participants will be asked to answer questions regarding their
perception of customer delight. The questions will be concerning their emotions
during a situation of customer contact. They will be asked to recall how they
were feeling or behaving in different situations. Participants will be asked to
what extent they agree with a statement. They may select an answer on a Likert
scale that ranges from 1 (“strongly agree”), to 5 (“strongly disagree”). A
sample statement could be: “When you think about a recent encounter with a
delighted customer, you feel enthusiastic about your job.” The outcomes of the
survey questions can then be measured to determine the employees’ perception on
customer delight.

The research conducted by Johlke, Duhan, Howell, & Wilkes (2000)
showed that there are various variables that influence job satisfaction.
Therefore, there can never be a direct causal effect of customer delight on job
satisfaction. However, combining the findings of this study with the
measurements of the previous conducted research by Johlke, Duhan, Howell, &
Wilkes (2000) will give us a better understanding on the possible correlation
between the two constructs.

Strengths and limitations

There are several benefits of applying a cross-sectional design. First,
there is no need to artificially randomize the target group, because it relies
on already existing differences. This is relatively inexpensive in terms of
time and resources. Second, it is a type of study that can easily be conducted.
Accordingly, it is achievable to obtain a large quantity of data. This, in
turn, gives a better indication of the prevalence of the outcomes (Lee &
Lings 2013).

However, it is worth noting that there are also some limitations of our
research. First, the study will not demonstrate causation, because of the use
of a cross-sectional design. The study can merely show a probable correlation
between variables, not an actual cause and effect relationship (Lee & Lings
2013). Second, this study is particularly based on front-line employees that have
direct customer contact. Thus, this research will be limited to the investigation
of front-line employees’ job satisfaction. Furthermore, the study asks the
participants to recall their emotions in recent situations. Consequently, the
participants’ memories can be biased, because the participants may have an
imprecise remembrance of the occurred events.


The online survey includes confrontational questions that might make it
uncomfortable for the respondents. To make sure that the employees answer the
questions in full honesty, it is very important to ensure them that their given
answers are completely anonymous and kept concealed from their employers. The
respondents should have full confidence that their honest answers can and will
not be used against them. It is the duty of the researcher to ensure the
information will not have adverse effects.