The surprising reason Jeff Bezos loves bad reviews from ‘divinely discontent’ Amazon customers

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos laughs as he talks to the media while touring the new Amazon Spheres during the grand opening at Amazon's Seattle headquarters in Seattle, Washington, January 29, 2018.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says the method he uses to meet the high expectations of "hundreds of millions of divinely discontent customers around the world" is the same one which has helped the company overcome "billions of dollars' worth of failures": having high standards.

"One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent," Bezos says in Amazon's 20th annual shareholder letter released today. "Their expectations are never static – they go up. It's human nature."

In order to stay ahead of "ever-rising customer expectations," Bezos says the entire company refers back to insisting on high standards, one of the Amazon's 14 leadership principles.

Here is the reason the company says it focuses so heavily on this principle:

Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

In the annual shareholder letter, Bezos makes the point that human evolution revolved around people's high standards and insatiable desire to move forward.

"We didn't ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday's 'wow' quickly becomes today's 'ordinary'," Bezos says.

People's ability to whip out their smartphones to "read reviews, compare prices from multiple retailers, see whether something's in stock, find out how fast it will ship or be available for pick-up," is one reason Bezos says Amazon constantly works to meet the high standards of those "divinely discontent" customers.

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"The high standards our leaders strive for have served us well," Bezos says, referring to the company's 2017 performance and the first-time disclosure of its 100 million Prime members.

Although this example is anchored in Amazon's retail arm, Bezos adds that anyone can focus on high standards both on a personal and career level.

We didn't ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied.
Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO

"Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits," he says.

For starters, it can help you stand out from the crowd: "People are drawn to high standards – they help with recruiting and retention."

Another "more subtle" benefit Bezos points out: "A culture of high standards is protective of all the 'invisible' but crucial work that goes on in every company."

"I'm talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it's part of what it means to be a professional," Bezos says.

"And finally, high standards are fun! Once you've tasted high standards, there's no going back," he adds.

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