Another great speaker at the Inc. Conference in September was Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. Tony came to talk with us about customer service. I decided to sit up straight and listen because this guy took a small-time internet company with less than $2 million in revenue to generating $1 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) in sales in less than 10 years. His main philosophy and road to success? Great customer service. Now many companies say the same thing, but here’s what makes Tony’s company different:
• All new employees – no matter what level – work in the call center and shipping docks for at least two weeks. This gives them a solid understanding of the needs of the customer.
• Zappos doesn’t spend a lot of money on direct marketing (magazine ads, billboards, etc.). Instead they put their money into the ‘wow’ factor for customers. This may take the form of free overnight shipping or other enhancements.
• The company doesn’t have restrictions on their customer service call centers. Customer service reps can talk as long as needed to ensure that the customer gets their needs met. According to Tony, the longest customer service call was over 5 hours!
• Lastly, Zappos has very easy access to customer service. The customer service hotline is on every page of their website (instead of buried at the bottom of a ‘contact us’ section) and they boast a 365-day return policy.
Way to go Tony! To learn more about Zappo’s culture and how Tony is leading the charge in customer service, check out their website.
Zappos is amazing. Having worked in telephone banks and consulted for global call centers, I recognize how hard it is to pull this off. The cross-training was a brilliant move. It seems that when I was looking for shoes a couple of years ago, Zappos was always more expensive. Perhaps they had to bankroll the expense of wow!-level customer service.
What happens when Zappos-level customer service becomes the norm – how will companies figure out how to get even further ahead?
Of course, if that level of customer service were the norm everywhere, we’d live in a great world.
My favorite customer service success story is Starwood – the hotel and resort property company. I’ve been a loyal Starwood Preferred Guest for more than 10 years now, and this year – in a down economy! – they launched a new program for all their Platinum Preferred Guests (those of us who travel A LOT every year) with Personal Ambassadors. I now have “Vicki” at my disposal whenever it comes to making reservations, adjusting my existing reservations, and just making sure my upcoming stays at Starwood properties are beyond fabulous. Vicki will even make dinner reservations or get my show tickets if I ask her too.
I’m amazed at how many companies like Dell or American Express have clearly missed the boat on customer service by pushing their call centers overseas. There is nothing more frustrating than talking to someone who clearly can’t help me with my problems and is only reading from a call script when responding to my questions or concerns. I’m not saying that all US-based companies have to keep their customer service call centers in the US. I do think that Tony Hsieh got it right though telling his customer service reps to do whatever it takes to create an unbelievable customer experience – even when that costs the company a little bit more in call time or shipping costs. Now that’s customer service!