Answers for the top 5 "Customer Obsession" Amazon interview questions

If you're about to interview at Amazon you should learn the 14 Leadership Principles because they ask interview questions based on them. 

Amazon Customer Obsession Questions

Amazon Leadership Principle #1: Customer Obsession

Everyone, no matter what role they're interviewing for, should prepare answers for the customer obsession questions because it’s the company’s favorite principle. 

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.

In other words, customers are #1. 

There are a lot of ways they can ask you about your interest in customers. Here are the top 5.

Top 5 Amazon interview questions asking about your customer obsession

  1. How do you show your customer obsession? 
  2. Tell me about a time you handled a difficult customer. 
  3. How do you wow your customers?
  4. How do you develop client relationships?
  5. How do you understand your customer’s needs?

Answer the interview questions by telling a story

All 5 questions 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” — they are actually asking for a story about something specific. You should answer general questions like this with something like, "I try to go above and beyond to serve my customers [first you give a general statement about your work habits]. For example, once last year I had to…[then you tell a specific story]" 

Use the STAR technique to structure your stories

How do you tell your story 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 interview questions. It provides a structure for you to remember so that you include the correct data in your answers. 

These are the 4 steps of STAR:

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

How do you show customer obsession?

A senior digital marketer's answer:

“An example of how I regard customers is from when I had just become the Regional Manager at X bank in India in 2015. We were having problems retaining customers because our online services, in particular the online banking app, weren't as sophisticated as our in person services were even though more of our customers were wanting to bank online. I realized this couldn't continue and began a push to revamp the app along with the IT department. It took us a year of product development but in the end we rolled out the new online banking app and service plan and it was well received. This and effort from other departments helped the organization notch customer engagement of 75% from 55% earlier over the next 2 years. We improved the region’s profitability by 15%."

This is a good answer because he gives a specific problem and shows specifically how he handled it and then gives the results. 

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.)"

This answer is good. Why?

• 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

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.

How do you wow your customers?

A Customer Service Manager's answer:

"I wow the customer by helping them with their problems as far as its in my power because I feel like that is a win-win for both us and the customer. Last week I made a customer happy because he wrote to say that he couldn’t use our service because he couldn’t afford it because he was in between school and a job, so I gave him four months of access for free. The reason I did that is that because I felt like once he did get a job I felt like he was more likely to pay for our product. He said he had a tear in his eye when he read my email, and so I'm sure that he will definitely be a loyal customer."

How do you develop client relationships?

A Product Manager's answer:

"The key to client relationships is listening to their needs and showing that you take them seriously. For example, one of our biggest enterprise customers wanted to migrate to our newest product but they were anxious because they had a lot of time invested into the old product and they were worried it wouldn’t be as good. I brought in senior people, not just the customer manager, to talk to them and speak to their concerns."

The problem with this answer is that it doesn't have the result but otherwise it's good. You could add more details about what you said to them to allay their concerns as well as how they reacted and what happened later.

How do you understand the customer’s needs?

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 customers are 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 info about answering customer obsession questions and a list of more possible questions you might get asked about it, read the longer version of the article. The article you just read is the quick rundown of a few of the potential questions. 

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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.