Amazon, customer centricity, and fearless reinvention to win today

This blog series provides our Xcelerate Retail Forum 2017 delegates and prospective attendees a chance to get to know a little about some of our outstanding speakers.

John RossmanI recently had a chance to speak with John Rossman, a partner with professional services firm, Alvarez and Marsal; Former Director of Enterprise Services, Amazon, who will present at Xcelerate Retail Forum in Las Vegas.

What has been the most significant change you have seen in your work as it relates to digital strategy over the last few years?

Everybody in every industry recognizes that they are susceptible to innovators and disruptors, whether it’s Amazon or somebody else, and that really no business and no industry is insulated from the forces behind a digital experience and digitizing the back office and your functions. Again, whether it’s Amazon or somebody else, somebody’s going to try to figure out how to approach your traditional business model with new and different techniques.

When you’re working with clients, and since you don’t know where the competition is going to come from—take Amazon’s announcement around Whole Food as a great example in terms of grocery—how do you coach people? 

Well, being aware of your competitors is interesting. What I think is more productive is going on the offense and asking How are we going to become more customer centric? How are we going to continue to improve the customer experience? How are we going to continue to drive operational improvements and scale our business?  The competitive aspect becomes a bit more secondary than just putting attention on yourself. So, specifically regarding the Amazon Whole Foods acquisition, I’d say you must deeply know and care about the customer and customer experience. Be willing to set aside traditional thinking to reinvent. Leverage data and tech to continuously improve operations.

You’ve written a few books on Amazon. Drawing from this one, The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company, what one or two pieces of advice can you give to leaders (and teams) in the grocery industry that you feel are imperative for competing and thriving today?

Yes, well first I don’t consider the book to really be about Amazon. It’s really about what other leaders and other companies and teams can take from Amazon and put into their own business to be more agile, to be more customer focused, to get better results. There are so many pieces of advice, but I think part of it is just about always challenging the status quo – whether that’s how you do a current process or how you currently serve customers or your current business model. It’s just never resting on your laurels and never being satisfied. Amazon’s original name was Relentless.com. So, if you look that up, it still resolves to Amazon. That word, “relentless,” does a great job of describing their striving for perfection on anything that impacts the customer experience.

Why did you agree to speak at Xcelerate?

Amazon exemplifies what it means to be a customer-first organization and to make customer experience, above all else, a guiding light in the business. There are so many techniques, but the problem teams have is Okay, great, I want to be a customer-first organization, what do I actually do differently to get there? I think that’s why Amazon is so interesting, because there’s so many little tricks and strategies they employ that help operationalize and put the customer first. That’s my real goal in speaking at Xcelerate, to give teams and leaders some things they can go do today without asking for permission. Things that enable them to move with better clarity, and with more customer focus that leads to innovation.

I think you just touched on this a bit, but can you give sneak peek at your presentation?

Yes, so one topic I’ll talk about is the use of metrics and instrumentation in the business. If you want to be a customer-experience organization, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to measure it and act against it. So, I’ll talk a little bit about Amazon’s focus on metrics.

Please share a little about personal about yourself for our readers.

I’m an industrial engineer by background; I’ve always been interested in efficiency and making technology and other things more efficient. When you think about what being digital means, it really means having speed and agility for your customer in your operations. That’s just been a lifelong interest for me.

John will be speaking at the Xcelerate Retail Forum in Las Vegas along with many others industry experts.
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