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3 Takeaways from a Road Trip to Zappos

Christopher Tuttle

For the past 3 or 4 years, “Zappos” and “incredible customer service” have been essentially synonymous.

Bring up the the little ‘ole online shoe retailer that Amazon bought for a cool $1.2 billion, and invariably someone starts spouting stories of the company’s legendary customer satisfaction and loyalty.

The 365 day return policy. Pre-paid shipping of shoes both ways. Service reps spending 4, 5, 6 hours on the phone getting an order or a return right. The empowerment of front-line service reps to take care of problems on the spot (including issuing credits/refunds without management approval).

I bring this up because late last week, Robb Young, XANT’s Director of Operations and I got back from a visit to Zappos corporate headquarters just down the dusty road of I-15 in Henderson, Nevada.

The visit was nothing short of a revelation.

Are the stories true?

Most of them. Here’s my 3 Biggest Takeaway’s from the visit:

Takeaway #1

Customer service is a culture, not an action item.

If I could convey one thing from the visit, it would be the feel, the atmosphere in the building.

This was a company with an identity. The culture from top to bottom intrinsically reflected leadership’s values. Conversations, employee activity, even the physical space design reflected the deep commitment to the customer.

Takeaway #2

Their employees self-police for metric variances.

Like any business, Zappos has certain hard and fast metrics that are non-negotiable. But many are entirely fluid, based on employee discretion.

The 6-hour service call stories about Zappos are the stuff of legend, and a huge PR boon for them. But it doesn’t necessarily mean Zappos wants their reps taking one of those calls a week.

Interestingly, Zappos trusts their employees to make the distinction. They review certain cases to see how certain employee actions were done, and if things deviate too far from the norm, they certainly address the issue. But the front-line employees are empowered and expected to create their own collective process of customer care.

Takeaway #3

The process determines the metrics, not the other way around.

Here’s one example: Zappos does not want to leave clients on hold. They’re intensely interested in getting callers off of hold, and talking to a live agent.

Once they’re talking, however, there’s no set time frame for how long it takes for the rep to resolve the issue.

By default they follow the “80/20” rule: 80% of calls need to be answered in 20 seconds or less, but after that, it’s entirely up to the rep’s discretion how to keep the customer satisfied. There’s no time limit, no urging support agents to get off the phone as quickly as possible. Take care of the customer in front of you, then worry about what’s next.

“Resolving issues as fast as possible” takes a back seat to taking care of the customer, period.

No business is perfect, even Zappos—but watching a company this focused, this committed to their own vision inspired me, and gave me a glimpse of how we could better transform XANT.

Author: Ken Krogue |
Summary of Ken Krogue’s Forbes articles

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