How to Answer Amazon Leadership Principle "Customer Obsession" Interview Questions

If you're about to interview at Amazon you should already know the 14 Leadership Principles.

Memorize them, because a favorite interview question is, "What is your favorite leadership principle?" or "Which leadership principle do you resonate most with?"

(And they're not going to write them down on the whiteboard for you.)

The first principle is "Customer Obsession"

Amazon customer obsession leadership principle.png

I recommend that everyone, no matter what role they're interviewing for, prepare answers for the customer obsession questions. This is really and truly Amazonians' favorite principle, so you need to be able to show you live it.

You may not be in a customer-facing role like sales, but you still work for the person who clicks "buy" — every decision Amazon makes is made thinking about how the end customer — the person tapping the buy button — will receive it.

Amazon Leadership Principle #1: Customer Obsession

This is how Amazon explains the principle:

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

So what does this principle mean? It means customers are #1. 

Here is another way of understanding it. If you are obsessed with customers, you will:

  • Know your customer’s needs and wants

  • Collect data on what your customer wants and needs

  • Ask, “Is what I’m working on helping my customers"?

  • Sincerely pursue customer feedback

  • "WOW” your customers

  • Know what would be better than what your customer is imagining and give them that

  • Remove steps in your process that don't add value

How to answer "customer obsession" questions in Amazon interviews

I've explained what the principle is about, so now how will this principle show up in your interview? Are they going to ask, "Are you obsessed with customers?" Well, they might ask this exact question, but the questions aren't usually so clear. There are various ways you might get asked about this.

Example interview questions asking about your customer obsession

- Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer. What did you do? How did you manage the customer?  What was her/his reaction? What was the outcome?

- Most of us at one time have felt frustrated or impatient when dealing with customers. Can you tell me about a time when you felt  this way and how you dealt with it?

- When do you think it’s ok to push back or say no to an unreasonable customer request?

- How do you develop client relationships?

- Tell me about a time you used customer feedback to change the way you worked.

- Tell me about a time you had to compromise in order to satisfy a customer.

- How do you get to an understanding of what the customer’s needs are?

- How do you anticipate your customer’s needs?

- How do you honestly pursue customer feedback, not just solicit them for compliments?

- How do you wow your customers?

- Tell me about a time a customer wanted one thing, but you felt they needed something else.

- When was a time when you had to balance the needs of the customer with the needs of the business? 

Tip: These questions do not use the words "customer obsession" but they are asking you whether you are obsessed with customers even without those words.

Tip: No, you don't need to use the words "obsessed" or "obsession" in your answer.

Answer the questions using behavioral question answering techniques

These questions are called behavioral questions. Do you know what behavioral interview questions are?

They're the type of questions that start with something like, "Give me an example of..." or "Tell me about a time...." Even the questions that start off with "How do you..." are asking you about your past behavior, so they are "behavioral" questions.

Use stories to answer behavioral questions

All of these questions that I listed need to be answered with a story about a time in your past work experience.

Even if you get asked "How do you wow your customers?" — which seems like it wants a general answer like "I work really hard" or something like that — they are actually asking for a story about something specific. You should answer this question with something like, "I try to go above and beyond to serve my customers [general statement]. For example, once last year I had to...[a specific story]" 

In other words, don't give just a general answer that describes your personality or work habits, also give a specific example about something that happened to you at work.

Use the STAR technique to structure your stories

So you have a good story to tell. Now how exactly do you tell it so that it's clear and not too short or too long?

Use the STAR technique. 

The STAR technique is a common system used to answer behavioral interview questions. It provides a structure for you to remember so that you include the correct data in your answers. 

These are the 4 step of STARs:

S – Situation - background info

T – Task - what you had to do 

A – Activity - what you did - this should be the longest part of the answer

R – Result - positive; quantifiable; what you learned; what you would do differently next time

If you get asked a behavioral question, answer by going through the letters in order.

First give the S part (explain the basic situation). Then give the T (what was your job/task in this situation) .Then A (show what you did). Last, give the R (outcome).

This is the basic STAR method. You can read this post for more about STAR, including sample answers to some possible questions, if you feel like you need more information before you start using it. 

Sample answers for customer obsession questions

Question: Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer.

This is the answer given by a salesperson:

"When I was a Sales Manager at X we had a group of unhappy customers. We'd sold them a weed killer that hadn't worked well. As farmers, this was important to them and they were threatening to take their business to our competitor. I had to try to keep them as customers. I knew this would be hard because our product had been defective and had cost them money. I had a meeting with all of them where I listened to them complain about what had happened. I tried to listen to each of them and respond calmly. I explained to them what had happened, which was definitely our fault, and apologized. In the end, they agreed to give us one more chance even though I couldn't offer them a refund (I didn't have the ability to do that.)"

Why is this answer good?

  • It talks about skills that will be relevant in the job she is applying for — dealing with unhappy clients, client communication, conflict management
  • It follows the STAR structure so it's easy to follow
  • It keeps to the details that are needed but doesn't add more — not too short or too long
  • It references the Amazon principle "customer obsession" although you'll notice she doesn't use those words 

Try to do the same things when answering your questions.

This is her answer broken down with STAR:

S: When I was a Sales Manager at X we had a group of unhappy customers. We'd sold them a weed killer that hadn't worked well. As farmers, this was important to them and they were threatening to take their business to our competitor.

T: I had to try to keep them as customers. I knew this would be hard because our product had been defective and had cost them money.

A: I had a meeting with all of them where I listened to them complain about what had happened. I tried to listen to each of them and respond calmly. I explained to them what had happened, which was definitely our fault, and apologized.

R: In the end, they agreed to give us one more chance even though I couldn't offer them a refund (I didn't have the ability to do that).

Length: Each section has only two to four sentences in it. The Action step can have more than this, but the other sections should stick to this number. If you're using more sentences, your answer is too long.

What happens if you talk for more than a minute? People stop listening.

Tip for salespeople: If you're a salesperson, cut your answer in half right now because it is too long. I can tell you this without looking at it.

Tips for technical people: If you're a technical person like an IT person/Engineer/Data Analyst, etc., look at your answer and remove at least half the detail and add general statements that explain the overall concepts because you jumped into detail without explaining the situation adequately. Also, remember who you're talking to. A recruiter or HR manager or someone in another department has no idea what the acronyms you're using mean so don't use them. If you use one, like "I had to rewrite the XXX so that it would XXX" explain what those things are. 

Tip: Don't say: "I let my boss handle it" or "I wasn't sure how to handle it" or "The customer is always right so I gave them what they wanted." You need to show that you aren't afraid of conflict (very important at Amazon), you know how to handle conflict in a way so that customer isn't hurt, and that you also know how to handle conflict so that the company isn't hurt. You need to show all of this and that you have good people skills (if you're in a customer-facing role) and good communication skills (if you are in a non customer-facing role). 

Question: How do you get to an understanding of what the customer’s needs are?

Tip: You might want to answer by saying something like "I do customer research" but remember they want a specific example and not a general answer.

This is the answer given by a Senior Digital Product Manager:

"I use quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative is looking at data to derive insights. Data can be what are customers doing when they use your product and if you're using a digital product you could use an approach like web analytics. Qualitative approaches you can simply ask them about their needs about how they use your product, but a better way is to immerse yourself into their problem space and ask where does the product fit into their daily life today? For example, in looking at my top customers, in terms of the customers most engaged on my platform, I can see that content about IT certification is very popular. As a result we started doing online trainings and certifications. So instead of just a course or video, we do live trainings now. Those turned out to be really popular. So it seems that anything we give them in terms of IT certifcation is really popular. So I've started to talk to customers about the role of certification in their workplace. It turns out that it's important because it's tied to promotions." 

This isn't a bad answer, but it isn't great. How could you make it better? Let's break it down into S-T-A-R first. 

The first part is not actually the Situation, but rather what I call "general stuff" and "extra stuff we don't need" — it's typical to see this at the start of answers — but do you see how it isn't actually "S" stuff?

"I use quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quantitative is looking at data to derive insights. Data can be what are customers doing when they use your product and if you're using a digital product you could use an approach like web analytics. Qualitative approaches you can simply ask them about their needs about how they use your product, but a better way is to immerse yourself into their problem space and ask where does the product fit into their daily life today?"

How could you use the same info but fix the structure? Move it around this way.

S — I use both quantitative and qualitative methods to find out what my customers need. [I kept one sentence of the general stuff as a lead in.] For example, last month I wanted to find out what type of content was most popular on our site so we could do more of it. 

T — I looked at data on my top customers, in terms of the customers most engaged on my platform, and I could see that content about IT certification is very popular.  So I started to talk to customers about the role of certification in their workplace. It turns out that it's important because it's tied to promotions." 

A — As a result we started doing online trainings for the certifications. So instead of just a course or video, we do live trainings now as part of the educational product line up.

R — Those turned out to be really popular. So it seems that anything we give them in terms of IT certification is really popular.

This is a much clearer answer. It uses a specific example to explain how he finds out what his customers want. 

 

If you'd like more ideas about how to prepare for your Amazon interview, read these:

How to answer leadership principle questions in an Amazon interview — general overview

How to use the STAR method to answer behavioral questions

How to answer Amazon behavioral questions

How to answer the interview question, "Why do you want to work at Amazon?"

From senior VP to entry-level programmer candidates, my clients have nailed the interview and landed the job at Amazon. Let's work together preparing for your interview and take your career to the next level. Email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers.