Tech’s Empty Chair

This week we saw Facebook and Twitter appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to talk about foreign election interference. Symbolically, an empty chair was left at the hearings for Google, who failed to send a senior-enough official to the meeting (they tried to send someone more junior and were rebuked). While the hearings went as well as these types of hearings tend to go, I couldn’t help but think of my favorite empty chair in tech: Amazon’s.

Since their inception, no matter the meeting size or scale of importance, Amazon has always had an empty seat in every meeting. Unlike the Senate’s symbolic shaming, Amazon always puts out a seat for the customer. Bezos famously said that “obsessing over customer experience is the only long-term defensible competitive advantage.” The empty chair serves as a constant reminder for who their services are really for.

When we meet and hash out ideas on clients, sales, and service, it would serve us well to remember the seat the clients have at the table. When there’s no empty chair, or worse – when there’s a chair that shames us for some form of non-compliance, we’re likely being overly focused on ourselves, our goals and what we do. When we add a chair for the client, it serves as a reminder that what we do always comes second to understanding what the client actually wants.