Zappo’s reputation for customer support almost outpaces its report as an online shoe and apparel retailer. But, then again, that’s the message that the billion-dollar company appears to want to convey. One company slogan, “we’re a service company that just happens to sell shoes,” characterizes what has become a revolutionary approach to customer relations.
Originally an online shoe retailer, Zappos branched out into clothing and accessories from over 1,000 brands. Since its June 1999 launch, Zappos has grown into a billion-dollar Fortune 500 company by focusing on their first Core Value: “Deliver wow through service.” Business may ultimately be about the bottom line, but the company’s approach to relationship building has helped it pull the big numbers in a different way.
Dozens of stories have surfaced over the past few years about the extreme lengths to which Zappos representatives have gone to make their customers smile. Reps have been known to send flowers and free shoes to deserving customers, and frequently upgrade random orders to free overnight shipping. In an age when the personal is king and reviews can outperform a big marketing budget, these one-off exchanges have resulted in more than a few lifelong customers. Operating on a loyalty business model, Zappos owes much of its growth to repeat customers and word-of-mouth recommendations.
Putting a premium on the customer wow-factor doesn’t come cheap. Zappos takes on significant expenses to offer free shipping both ways on top of its 365 day return policy. CEO Tony Hsieh has stated that the company views the cost as a marketing expense, investing money in its customers instead of advertising and relying on word of mouth. So does this mean that you need to break out the flowers and (and the big bucks) to improve your company’s customer service? Fortunately, Zappos demonstrates that there are more scalable ways to make great service a pillar of your company.
Get Great People
When Zappos got serious about customer support, it quit outsourcing its shipping and decided against staffing its call centers with overseas workers. The company’s move from San Francisco to Las Vegas in 2004 was motivated by the desire to find people who could be passionate about the company and provide the best service. This deliberate approach to staffing paid off, and models the importance of creating opportunities to get the right people on your team.
Humanize Your Brand
Zappos is a great company not only for customers, but also for employees. Zappos made its debut on Fortune’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2009, and its current #86 ranking marks its seventh inclusion. A big part of employee satisfaction stems from Employees are encouraged to “create fun and a little weirdness,” one of its ten core values, and to use their own best judgement in customer interactions. The result is a more approachable company that puts the human aspect first.
The bottom line…Think about who is representing your company, and how.