- Andy Jassy, the former head of AWS, took over from Jeff Bezos as CEO of the whole company last year.
- He’s been using customer-complaint emails to quickly learn more about Amazon’s retail business.
- Team members who handle those emails feel more pressure with increased demands from their new boss.
On October 4, three months into his new role as Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy got an email from Visa’s technology president, Rajat Taneja, asking for help with a problem: suspicious orders from Taneja’s personal Amazon account.
In the email, viewed by Insider, Taneja suspected someone was using his personal credentials to order products from India. He pointed to a potential “flaw in the way Amazon verifies an email account” and asked Jassy to connect him to Amazon’s customer service or fraud department because he couldn’t get in touch with its “cyber team.”
Jassy swiftly forwarded Taneja’s email to his “escalations” team, a group of employees who review and resolve customer complaints, and asked for a quick response explaining the root cause of the problem.
“Can we help him asap?” Jassy wrote, stressing the email came from the head of technology at Visa, a strategic partner to the Amazon Web Services cloud unit. “Could you pls email when resolved (hopefully today)? Thx!”
The email chain, and a trove of similar internal communications reviewed by Insider, provide new insights into one of the most important management handoffs in the history of modern American business. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s visionary and mercurial founder, built the company from scratch into a dominant e-commerce and cloud-computing platform with over 1.6 million employees. In July, he handed the empire to Jassy. Such leadership transitions are risky, especially for founder-led technology companies.
‘Famous for pushing for results’
The documents reveal the new CEO applying his penchant for micromanaging to a bevy of customer complaints, instructing his team to review and resolve problems swiftly — much more often than Bezos did. For Jassy, who spent the prior 15 years leading AWS, these customer emails also give a uniquely exhaustive view into Amazon’s retail business, helping him adjust to a larger role managing other parts of the company he’s less familiar with.
Michael Johnson, a management professor at the University of Washington, said there’s a difficult balance to strike between pushing for results and micromanaging. If Jassy is giving enough freedom for employees to make their own decisions, Amazon will continue to thrive. But if he starts to interfere in operational decisions too, it could quickly go the other way.
“Jassy is famous for pushing for results,” Johnson said. “This can be good, but only if he provides support and autonomy as well.”
It’s not unusual for Amazon executives to dig into customer complaints to get a pulse on how the customer experience is going. Bezos famously forwarded simple question-mark emails to his team when he saw unusual charges. Others, like the company’s worldwide-consumer CEO, Dave Clark, also actively investigate customer emails. But Jassy’s frequency and depth of such inquiries far outpace other executives’, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations.
“We think Jassy’s using it to learn the retail business,” this person said. “Our question is, will he pull back or keep it going, because the teams are handling the heaviest amounts of volume they’ve ever handled.”
An Amazon representative didn’t respond to a request for comment. Jassy, however, recently acknowledged the rising number of emails and the lessons they provide for his new job.
During an internal all-hands meeting in November, Jassy told employees the main difference between being Amazon CEO and AWS CEO was the sheer number of emails he reviewed each day from customers, sellers, and workers, adding they were “generally very helpful and very instructive.”
“Sometimes people are venting, but by and large it actually helps the company,” Jassy said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Insider. “And I learn.”
One such occasion came in December, when Jassy received a customer complaint about a refund on a promotional product. He forwarded it to the retail boss Clark and the senior vice president of North America consumer, Doug Herrington, arguing the “customer seems right here.” Clark disagreed.
“Actually I think this one is different,” Clark wrote back to Jassy, according to the email seen by Insider. “The [customer service] agent is not explaining that clearly and the whole contact is very confusing as a result.”
Some of Jassy’s emails can be more brusque. In one case in December, Jassy wrote the vice president Tobin Weldele, “Below can’t be what we intend, right?” referring to a complaint about poor customer service. In another, Jassy criticized a customer-service agent for telling a consumer to contact the government for help with a problem. “Why would they need the government to solve this?” the CEO wrote.
Jassy’s responses can also be instructive to other leadership at the company. Last month, a customer wrote to Jassy that Amazon’s customer-service agent didn’t bother trying to keep them as a Prime member when they called to cancel their subscription. Jassy forwarded that email to Clark and Weldele, and urged that Amazon should train its associates to “nicely ask” people why they’re canceling Prime memberships and how they could be retained.
“Think, if done right, people like to feel like they matter enough that we’re trying to sort their problem to retain them as a customer,” Jassy wrote.
Jassy’s propensity to scrutinize customer emails can have the added benefit of internally demonstrating what is strategically important at Amazon, in this case customer satisfaction, according to Jennifer Chatman, a management professor at the University of California at Berkeley. When the CEO directly engages in customer complaints, it serves as “symbolic acts of leadership” that the rest of the company follows.
“These examples probably spread like wildfire in the company and so many people learned vicariously about just how important customers are,” Chatman said.
‘Exponentially more escalations than under Jeff’
Not everyone is happy about Jassy’s prying eyes. Those on the escalations team who deal with Jassy’s emails have seen their workload significantly increase since his promotion, according to a person familiar with the matter. Unlike Bezos, who forwarded emails once or twice a month, Jassy is “engaging daily,” this person said.
On top of that, Jassy typically expects a response to every inquiry to explain and confirm how each issue has been resolved. On most cases, the team needs to resolve every issue within 24 hours, and it often must provide a detailed summary report to leadership within 14 days. Writing those reports can be a painstaking process that requires multiple revisions and approvals up the chain. Bezos, however, largely stopped sending his question mark emails since stepping down.
“We are seeing exponentially more escalations than under Jeff,” this person said.
The increased workload is not a surprise for those familiar with Jassy’s work. Jassy was known as a micromanager with an obsessive level of attention to detail when he was AWS’ CEO. One former executive told Insider that Jassy was probably “asking lots of questions just to learn.”
The Visa tech chief’s inquiry led to similar scrambling within the escalations team — but all for naught. A closer look into Taneja’s account found no signs of a security breach, according to an internal document reviewed by Insider. There was no contact history from Taneja to the “Amazon Cyber” team either, and the company planned to send his family some Amazon merchandise as consolation, the document said.
“Mr. Taneja was very pleased with the speedy resolution to his concerns and mentioned that his family loves Amazon,” the document said. Visa and Taneja did not respond to requests for comment.
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