The 10 Days of Zappos


Whilst in town today, I ran into… bacon.  I hadn’t the nerve to tell the bloke that I’m a vegan.


Some of my friends at work enjoying Halloween

Growing up in New York, I associated autumn with September, because that’s when the school year started, and with October, because that’s when we drove up to the cider press in New Paltz to look at the pumpkins and lug home bushels of apples for pies and applesauce.

In California, however, you have to reach November before it feels as if summer is really over.  Here and there, a few trees blush into fall color, as if embarrassed by being in such a minority.  There are plenty of pumpkin patches and corn mazes around, but somehow it all seems fake.  Once you’ve experienced autumn in New England or New York, autumn anywhere else seems pale by comparison.

Fortunately, November is the start of the holiday season, and this I can count on to bring me inexpressible joy.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are nearly upon us, lights and decorations are everywhere and I turn on the holiday music to make my spirits soar.  I’ve already been singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in the shower for a month.  (The verse about “bring us some figgy pudding” never ceases to crack me up — I’m weird like that.)  Some gripe about the holiday season starting too soon, but I am one of those saps who wishes “peace on earth, good will toward men” would prevail every day of the year.

As we embark upon the holidays, my thoughts turn to all the retail and call center staff working holiday jobs for a little extra cash.  These are the women and men who are the heart of our holiday shopping expeditions, the very ones who make it possible for us to have all those brightly wrapped gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.  I know this kind of work can be brutal, and that harried shoppers who are running out of patience, time and money seldom take a moment to say “thank you.”  So here it is from Uncle Guacamole:  Thank you to all the stockers and cashiers and floor managers and warehouse workers on fork lifts and call center reps on the phones.  Love to every one of you.

And a particular shout out to the customer loyalty team at Zappos, burning up the phone lines in the old city hall in downtown Las Vegas.  These folks are dear to my heart because they know how to both feel and inspire joy all year long.  I am nearly 600 miles away in northern California, but I am with you in spirit.

Last June, I posted a love song for Zappos, in which I admitted that working for the company is my secret desire.  As with unrequited love everywhere, this starry-eyed swooner has learned to be an admirer from afar.

Among the reasons that Zappos continues to command my respect is the Zappos Family Core Values.  Accordingly, as we get started with NaBloPoMo, I will spend the next ten days celebrating these values, one at a time, in this space.  If this bores you into a coma, please return on Veterans Day, when the usual schedule of lunacy that is A Map of California will resume in all its twisted glory.

Zappos Core Value #1:  Deliver WOW Through Service

The word “wow” implies surprise, which in turn refers to the unusual — in this case, unexpected delight.  One may be tempted to say that getting to “wow” should not be too difficult in the realm of customer service, since most of our expectations are set so low.  Of course, you know what the problem is with low expectations:  They are a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It goes something like this . . .

Customer:  Retail employees are either rude or they just don’t care, so I’m going to be realistic and won’t expect much.  Just get me through this transaction and out the door as quickly as possible.

Retail Employee:  Customers are either rude or they’re just clueless, so I’m just going to do the zombie thing and get through my day on auto-pilot.  They don’t pay me enough for this!

See what I mean?  This is depressing.  Fortunately, when you hit bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.  Even as small a gesture as a smile tends to surprise customers these days.

Now, to take it a step further (e-commerce edition):

Customer:  It’s the holiday season, so they always jack up the prices and I’m going to have to pay a lot more than I really should.  With holiday backups, who knows whether my order will arrive in time for Christmas.  When it gets here, the box will probably be smashed or torn open and my merchandise will either be damaged or will be the wrong item, color or size.

Call Center Employee:  Lady, I’m just doing my job.  I have no control over that stuff.  Gimme a break, will ya?

Sadly, I can’t blame the customer for having expectations that all too often ring true.  There is no excuse for the call center employee, however.  This is a classic case of not taking ownership of the situation, otherwise known as “passing the buck.”  It’s a terminal case of I-don’t-care.

My question to you is:  Why should a customer plunking down her hard-earned money patronize businesses offering this type of customer service?  Some may think that it’s just a fact of life, that there isn’t any alternative.  Happily, Zappos and likeminded companies have proven that there is another way.

To me, the “wow” factor starts with keeping your promises.  Everything advertised should be immediately available, and in the desired style, color and size.  It continues with a positive attitude:  Customer service representatives should have a smile in their voices, deep product knowledge, a willingness to go out of the way to be helpful, a positive attitude and unwavering courtesy.  Find a way to say “yes.”  Respect the customer and the customer may surprise you by respecting you.  Next, the business must come through by delivering the correct item at the correct price on time, or early if possible.  Little treats like a discount coupon for next time are helpful to further encourage repeat business.  Finally, when things go wrong, as they inevitably will at times, sincere apologies must be backed up with immediately making the situation right, whatever that may entail.  The company must take a personal interest in the customer’s satisfaction, whether that involves re-sending the item ordered and refunding the customer’s money, delivering the item in person or, as shown in the recent movie The Intern, providing the customer with the company owner’s personal cell phone number.  If you can make the customer say “Wow!,” not only will you have a customer for life, but your customer will tell everyone he or she knows about the wonderful service experienced.

I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of a work environment that treats the “wow” factor as status quo.  It has to be empowering to work in a place where, instead of being an exception, providing amazing service is all in a day’s work.  There is nothing unusual about it.

It is well known that happiness is contagious.  Why settle for grumpy employees and customers when it is just as easy to have cheerful employees and delighted customers?  When you enjoy what you’re doing and you have a desire to please, the love shines through and brightens the day of the customers you serve.  And coming to work becomes nothing short of pure joy.

Customer “service” is not just a convenient term for salespeople.  It really does mean that we are servants, whose goal must be to please the customer, not to blindly follow scripts or policy or just get through the day.  The most successful businesses, those who inspire true loyalty, are those who understand that we are here to do the will of the customer, not the other way around.

Of course, taking care of the employees is an important part of the formula.  You have to “wow” them, too, which means lots of fun and frivolity!  At Zappos, this includes things like free food, the ability to bring your dog to work, and a steady parade of ruckus and circus that makes coming to work fun. I guess I’m not alone.  Everyone probably wants to work there.

To reiterate, Uncle Guacamole’s four steps to delivering “wow” through service are:

  • Keep your promises
  • Maintain a positive attitude at all times
  • Find a way to say “yes”
  • Move heaven and earth to make it right, no gesture too grand

Happy holidays!

Tomorrow: Zappos Core Value # 2 – Embrace and Drive Change

NaBloPoMo 2015 Logo   nanopoblano2015dark

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