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Lessons Learned at Zappos: Values, Service, Experience

Recognize This! – Determining your core values and company isn’t enough. You must be willing to commit the time and money to properly build a culture around it.

Yesterday, I mentioned briefly an example Zappos’ powerful culture of empowerment. Last week, a member of my In*sight Services consulting team, Traci, had the opportunity to tour Zappos and see their happiness culture in action.

Traci returned from Zappos excited by all she had observed first hand. Just three of the key take-aways she told me are critical approaches we also encourage our clients to follow:

1)     It’s all about the values. Zappos hires, reviews performance, and fires based on their company values. I’ve written before about Zappos “culture assessments” (instead of performance reviews) in which employee success is assessed based on how well they demonstrated the company values throughout the year.

Traci reported employee commitment to living the values was pervasive from the moment when she entered the company parking lot and was kindly escorted to the proper entrance by a Zappos employee who had arrived at the same time. Zappos “family members” constantly enquired how they could help her, offering her free books from the company library and much more – always with high energy and courtesy.

2)     It’s all about the service. Both internally and externally, Zappos is committed to service – customer service as well as service to colleagues. Their goal at all times is to build emotional connections, believing these connections between individuals makes it easier to support each other in delivering optimum customer service.

One factor of this is that nobody’s seat is sacred. Desks are shifted constantly to encourage building of relationships between new neighbors. Even CEO Tony Hsieh and his executive team sit in cubicles, not offices. That’s Tony’s cube pictured above. (The jungle theme is in homage to the executives – the “people in monkey suits” – who sit there.)

3)     It’s all about the experience. Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Zappos is committed to every customer experiencing a personal connection when they call in. Zappos trains employees extensively, offering 42 different courses and requiring four weeks of intensive “incubation” (not just onboarding) in which the company history, culture and approach are critical components.

The result? In the last three years, Zappos has not had a single opening in their customer service team. Not one. Industry standard is 70% employee turnover annually in customer service. For the pragmatic, think of the savings in recruiting and training alone, especially when you factor in the low recruiting costs Zappos has. It’s harder to get into Zappos (4% of all applicants hired) than Harvard University (6% of all applicants accepted as students).

Can you boil your company culture and ethos down to three key take-aways?  If I were to come tour your headquarters office, what would I observe about your culture?

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