Today, in the Invent Like An Owner Podcast, Dave speaks with Colleen Byrum and Jane Slade, who both joined in 1996 (when Jane joined Amazon, they only had 3 Customer Service people!). The discussion surrounds how the Customer Service team wasn’t just the people in the Customer Service department, but everyone who joined the company. In the early days, almost all employees got trained in Customer Service support, even engineers and Senior Vice Presidents!
Colleen Byrum was the former director of Customer Service and former VP for Amazon.de and Amazon.co.uk. Jane Slade was the former director of Customer Service Strategy – Customer Experience, Product Development, Finance, and Operations. Recently, both were working at Freightera.
- Colleen Byrum’s LinkedIn
- Jane Slade’s LinkedIn
- Freightera Freight Marketplace
- Jane Slade interview – Internet History Podcast, January 2015
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Memorable Quotes from the Interview, with a focus on the problems faced by entrepreneurs:One of Amazon's key success factors was the insistence on customer focus across the board. Nobody in the company owned customer service. We all owned customer service. — Colleen Byrum Click To Tweet Something we did very intentionally is we treated customer service as an incubator for jobs elsewhere in the company, and this populated the company with people who really knew how things worked (for customers). — Colleen Byrum Click To Tweet Amazon met with many customer service software vendors, and we told them our volume; they couldn't handle our numbers, even back then. We needed to move fast, so we made the decision that we needed to build it ourselves. — Jane Slade Click To Tweet Hire brilliant people in customer service, who are very good communicators. Then feed the customer service information back into the machine to constantly improve the company as it scales. — Jane Slade Click To Tweet
Fun Photos and Memorabilia
In the below photo, an exhausted Jess Scheibach (Customer Service Technology Program Manager) is demo-ing the ‘Arizona’ (Customer Self Service) launch for Jeff Bezos in 2000. Jeffrey Pratt is beside Jeff, and in the background from left to right are Dorothy Nichols, Gordon Waddell, and Andy Kegel.
What to Listen For:
- 00:00 Intro
- 02:03 What customer service support was like in the early days
- 04:09 Varying questions from Amazon’s early adaptors
- 05:58 Training for customer support was done basically side by side
- 06:57 Mid-May 1996 was the first flood of customers
- 08:40 Early customer support was phone-only before email became dominant
- 09:45 Jeff Bezos liked to hire smart people (advanced degrees were a good proxy)
- 12:00 The number one Customer Service question
- 12:32 What happened after the Wall Street Journal surge?
- 19:04 Jeff looked for intuitive qualities in people
- 20:57 Massive search to fill up shortage in Customer Service headcount
- 22:50 Amazon Customer Service support scaling up
- 25:33 Third party CS software could not keep up with the existing volume
- 29:15 Customers call because something went wrong
- 31:43 Figuring out which orders should go first
- 34:48 Key metrics in sending and tracking orders
- 36:18 Hands are full during Christmas and people are being sent to distribution centers
- 39:11 Customer Service is an incubator for other jobs in Amazon
- 40:32 Working around very small vendors for books
- 42:47 What’s the most memorable online complaint?
- 44:07 CS lessons for startup companies