I was only 25 when I started a small creative agency based in Minneapolis with help from two friends. We sequestered ourselves in a back room at a large semi-abandoned shopping mall where the rent was cheap and barely anyone knew how to find us.
The one thing I remember from that startup is that we absolutely treasured every single customer. They were like golden tickets or glowing jewels. I remember almost every meeting from way back then, that feeling of hopefulness and anticipation.
One day, we met with a company that needed a new logo. I can’t remember the details about what we decided or even whether we finished the project–I left to join another startup after only six months–but I do remember thinking about how I should choose my words carefully because I only had the client’s attention for so long. It’s funny looking back realizing I remember the customer but not the project!
Years later, when I did some consulting on the side, I had a similar experience. I recall one particular meeting when I felt some synergy with a department head at a gas company.
I was working with her on a proposal to interview all of the employees on camera and determine the best strategy for rolling out a new app. It was an amazing experience because I learned about how to listen to the client, how to adjust my own expectations, and how to show empathy.
Recently, I watched a video from the Re:Mars conference in Las Vegas where Jeff Bezos explained some of his views about how to be a successful entrepreneur. One line really stood out as the most important piece of advice: “The most important thing is to be customer obsessed,” he said. Those nine words can make all of the difference.
You can watch the entire video here:
“Don’t satisfy your customers, figure out how to absolutely delight them. That is the number one thing no matter who your customers are.”
The founder of Amazon obviously knows a few things about starting companies and making customers happy. He has lasted through an entire generation–I first remember hearing about him over 18 years ago. He’s even persevered through controversy. Meanwhile, Amazon is thriving, mostly because the company provides exceptional service time and time again.
Later in the same interview, he mentioned another good strategy for success:
“You have got to have some passion for the arena you’re going to develop and work in,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re going to be competing against people who do have passion for that and they’re going to build better products and services.”
That’s right: Obsession and passion.
Those two words stand out from the entire interview, which is well worth watching. He is erudite and lucid but also candid about what success means.
My question for you to consider: Are you putting customer obsession and passion at the top of your list? Too often we get distracted by other priorities, even good ones like employee retention and caring for the bottom line.
The reality is that putting customers first and being passionate about what you do will always be the main drivers for long-term, on-going success.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.