Lessons from Zappos: culture of customer service

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In the last year Zappos customer service reps:

  • sent flowers to a woman who ordered shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments
  • gone to a competitor’s store to get a pair of shoes because Zappos was out of stock
  • shipped a pair of shoes overnight for free to a best man whose alternative was a barefoot walk down the aisle.

So what made Zappos staff so prepared to go the extra mile and how could you introduce that culture to your company?

A big part of it came down to figuring out what makes people happy and helping them get there, CEP and founder Tony Hsieh said. While many people cite income and vacations as factors in their happiness, Hsieh’s research found four different key factors.

These included:

  • perceived control
  • perceived progress
  • connectedness (the number and depth of your relationships);  and
  • being part of something bigger than yourself.

According to Hsieh, it doesn’t matter what a person’s core values actually are. “What matters is that you have them and commit to them. And by committing to them, you’re willing to hire or fire based on them independent of actual job performance, he said.

He suggested that while many companies have core values, few commit to them the way Zappos does. Get that right, he said, and the rest will fall in place.

Zappos took the extraordinary step of offering trainees an incentive to leave. At the end of the first week of training they offered new workers payment for their time so far, plus a $4,000 bonus to walk away. It’s about making sure only those who are truly committed to the Zappos culture stick around. The training lasts a minimum of four weeks, and that’s for all new staff from call centre workers to senior management.

When he’s hiring Hsieh asks himself “Is this someone I would want to have a beer with?” ensuring the focus is on attitude and fit, not just ticking the right boxes on a resume.

Zappos’ “Family core values” reflect the ideas Hsieh supports – empowering employees, creating relationships and encouraging them to feel part of “something bigger”:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble


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