Category Archives: Customer service

Why isn’t your culture a tourist attraction or a profit center?

If you’re reading this blog post, you’re either a participant in the world of social media, or you’re my mom.  (Hi, Mom!)   If you’re a participant in the world of social media, you’ve heard of Zappos.  Because Zappos has been the poster child for the effective use of social media to drive sales through customer satisfaction for the last 3 or 4 years, they’re mentioned in every presentation on social media I’ve ever seen.  Heck, even I referenced them in a talk I gave to the Human Resource Policy Institute at Boston University last year.   It seems as if Zappos is everywhere in social media and more and more in traditional media – and I hear that HR professionals are starting to tire of hearing about Zappos’ success with all things social media, its engaging culture, the free tours of its headquarters (which they do 4 times a day!), and their 10 core values. 

It does seems as if Zappos and its CEO, Tony Hseih, are everywhere in the traditional print and social media scenes these days.  (Check out the current Harvard Business Review article, “How I did it…Zappos’s CEO on Going to Extremes for Customers.”)  And the topic is always the same:  Tony’s conviction that culture drives organizational success.  Period.  

Since I moved back to Vegas last month, I took the opportunity to go on the Zappos tour, meet some of their leaders, and do a little poking around.  I can understand HR folks being skeptical after all the coverage.  Usually when something seems too good to be true, it is.  But before you throw them overboard, ask questions.  Go visit.  Test them.  Don’t decide not to talk about them because you think they’re overexposed.   Because here’s the thing:  what they’re doing is working.  The hype matches the reality.

The leadership of the company is singularly focused on creating a culture based on 10 core values and it’s clear when you visit that the employees know them and live them.  Check out this video.  And you can see and hear CEO TonyHsieh talk about the culture here.   

And the results and stats are impressive.  Their turnover is low, their customer satisfaction (which they track daily through net promoter scores) is enviable, it’s harder to get a job there than it is to get in to Harvard, and they’ve successfully weathered being acquired by Amazon.  Here’s a memo the CEO sent to his colleagues last week at the one year anniversay of that acquisition.  (Note that he tweeted the public availability of this memo after posting it internally.)

You’ve seen all this before.  But here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Not only is the culture the foundation for their success, they’ve created a new company, Zappos Insights, to share their learnings, provide support, and create a community of culture focused leaders.  In other words, they’ve turned their successful culture into a profit center.

I attended a Zappos Insights Gold one-day event last month.  There were 13 of us in the group:  three leaders of a small tech firm that had just been purchased by a major telcom company; two leaders from a hip shoe business in New York City; a team of seven (including the Director) from the customer service division of a major cruise line; and me.  It was an illuminating day to say the least.  We got to talk to HR and recruiting folks, the pipeline (training) leader, managers from the Customer Loyalty Team (call center), with lots of time for interaction and Q&A.  We started, of course, with the tour of the headquarters and got to see the Zapponians at work in their natural habitat. 

I’ll be honest.  I was skeptical.  But I have to tell you the culture was palpable.  There was a positive energy in the place that I haven’t felt for some time.  With a 36 year old CEO and over 400 people in the call center, it wasn’t surprising that the average age felt like it was well under 30.  But to be fair, it felt good.  Really good. 

I had read Tony Hsieh’s new book, Delivering Happiness, before the event, so I was current on the Zappos history (which is so important that there’s a course on it in the pipeline (training) curriculum).  And I attended as a participant, but also as an observer of this phenomenon.  Gang, they’re doing great stuff.  The participants of that one day event came away with concrete information – right from the source – about how to select employees and treat customers to create a culture of success.  Adding membership to the experience keeps you in touch with others who are trying to achieve the same results and gives you a constant influx of interviews, how to’s, and other useful, practical information from the Zappos leadership team. 

So I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something to this.  Creating a culture that’s so strong it draws tourists and can be turned in to a profit center seems like a good thing to me.  What do you think?



Filed under Business Success, Culture, Customer service, HR, Leadership, Uncategorized

This just in: chef says my expectations for toast are too high!

My second post (after the one graciously published at The HR Capitalist) was going to be about culture, leadership and business success using Zappos’ approach to customer service as a case study.  But here’s the thing:  once I started thinking about it, I see examples of wretched customer service everywhere I go.  Take this morning, for example.

My husband and I are on vacation celebrating our 27th anniversary and my xxth birthday at our favorite place in the world (after Positano, Italy):  Lake Tahoe.  If you’ve never been here, it’s a must for your bucket list.  I’m looking out the window of my hotel room and see the breathtaking gradations of aqua in the water, the still snow covered mountains rimming the lake – all under a canopy of the bluest blue sky I’ve ever seen.  Inspiring.

We went to breakfast at one of the great places the “locals” frequent (we lived here 17 years ago).  We sat on the deck overlooking the lake and watched all the folks streaming in to the area to stake out good spots from which to watch the fireworks this evening.  Our breakfast order was pretty simple.  French toast for me, bananas on the side and the potato/sausage skillet with runny, over easy eggs and sourdough toast (toasted “golden brown”) for my husband. 

The server was a chipper and pleasant gal in her early 20’s.  No problem on the eggs and certainly no problem on the toast.  We were optimistic.  Well, the eggs came hard and the toast wasn’t even toasted.  Just kind of warm.  When my husband asked her to make them right she got all “Miss Thing” on us and tried to convince him that the warm toast really was golden brown and the clearly hard egg yolks really were runny.  He didn’t buy it. 

The eggs came back a second time and they were perfect, but by then the skillet part was cold.  And the toast, well, the toast was burned to a crisp.  When my husband pointed out to the server that the toast was inedible she got really defensive.  At that point he asked to see the manager.  My husband’s a big guy (former Division I football player) and knows that he easily intimidates people even when he’s not trying.  So he was not aggressive or demonstrative at all.  In fact, I would have been a lot stronger in my expression of displeasure.  My “Miss Thing” act is pretty convincing.

The manager – actually the chef – came over and was sort of apologetic and offered to buy our breakfasts.  We accepted.  But he ruined the save by becoming defensive and puzzled that we would be less than pleased with the service – after all, the eggs came back the second time as ordered.  And the toast, well, toasters are tough machines to work with and we shouldn’t have such high expectations for toast.  Really?  Our toast options are slightly warm or burned to a crisp?

I know that being a server in a restaurant isn’t easy.  I certainly couldn’t do it.  I’d be dropping plates, breaking glasses and spilling stuff — probably on the customers.  I would be a disaster.  But I think that service businesses of any size should be paying more attention to the cultures of service they’re trying to create and select their staffs with that culture in mind before they start evaluating the skills of applicants.  And then some training around building relationships, exceeding customer expectations and taking a long term view of the customer experience might be helpful.  Clearly none of that was happening here. 

In the broad scale of things, poor service from a small, locally owned restaurant isn’t that big a deal.  Except that we expect  and accept bad service so consistently that when we experience good – or even great – service it shocks us to our boots!  And here’s the thing:  it can’t be that hard!  I know people will and have made observations that no American wants a service job anymore and that the Gen Xers were brought up in such a manner as makes them totally unable to get outside themselves to think about others or take personal responsibility for anything.  I don’t buy either argument.  I think there’s great power in serving.  I think there’s no greater satisfaction than in helping others.  I think that we’ve given up expecting good from our fellow human beings and expect everyone to be selfish, in it only for themselves and unwilling to set self aside for the greater good – especially in the commercial world. 

And that’s why the Zappos’ culture is so noteworthy.  Here’s a CEO, a company culture and employees who exist to rock our world with the best customer service known to humankind.  Think about that.  They’re not in business to sell shoes, apparel or housewares.  They’re in business to provide the best customer service in the world.  Makes me want them to sell cars, homes, travel (Zappos Airlines, anyone?) and everything I buy!  I’ll explore that a little more next week when I get back from vacation.  

In the meantime, do you agree with the chef?  Are my expectations too high?

Here’s hoping your egg yolks are always runny and your toast is always golden brown – if that’s the way you like them!  And Happy Birthday America!


Filed under Business Success, Customer service