Communication Coach: How Zappos got the customer experience right

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Zappos reimagined the customer experience by building a culture of people who are passionately committed to delivering wow through service.

The recent and unexpected passing of Tony Hsieh, the former CEO and first investor in Zappos, reminded me of the early days of social media and how it influenced that transformation.

When I joined Twitter in 2008 there were fewer than two million users. It felt like a community because you could connect with just about anyone. That’s how I came to know Tony Hsieh and Zappos.

A couple of years later I received a package from him, a signed, early-release copy of his book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose,” and a couple extra copies to give away to my blog subscribers.

Tony Hsieh’s passion was living a meaningful and purposeful life. That’s what made him happy, and what’s more interesting is how that path and its discoveries also made Zappos successful.

The book describes that journey and how serendipity made much of it possible. As Hsieh recognized this, he became intentional about making serendipitous encounters happen. He referred to them as collisions. I imagine because that’s how they feel to us introverts, Hsieh being one.

It happened that I had an upcoming speaking engagement in Las Vegas, so I planned to visit Zappos headquarters to hopefully make a few collisions and business discoveries of my own.

At that time, they were still located in Henderson, just outside of Old Las Vegas to where the company later relocated. Back then, and today, Zappos welcomes visitors that want to get a glimpse of how their culture-driven company works.

I was intrigued from the moment the branded Zappos van picked me up at my hotel. The driver was gracious and kind enough to indulge me by taking a few photos when we arrived at Zappos so I could document the experience on my blog.

Zappos’ cramped, unassuming lobby, no larger than the average Starbucks, may be puzzling if you are not aware of intentional collisions. When you understand why Zappos executives, employees and visitors all pass through that singular space, everything starts to make sense.

In case you make the tour yourself someday, I won’t spoil the rest of the experience because you will see how more business gets done with less, and everyone is happier. Not just fewer investments in things like shiny chrome and marble lobbies, but less of everything that doesn’t encourage an inclusive work environment.

Collisional moments encourage profitable outcomes

There are no rules at Zappos, other than its 10 core values. Not surprisingly, these core values are discussed at the commencement and conclusion of every Zappos tour.

Zappos’ 10 Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

“Any questions?” our tour guide asked. After a few of us tossed some what-if scenarios his way, we were assured that when differences arise, the conversation usually circles back to the 10 core values.

What I learned from Tony Hsieh, and what was reinforced in my visit to Zappos, was that we are free to do anything we want in our businesses. There are no rules or conventions, other than the ones that we make, and of course, legal rules and regulations.

There are inevitable transitions in life and the passing of gifted leaders is one of them. Until that happens, there are limitless opportunities for putting ourselves and our companies in the path of meaningful connections.

There are still ways to do that in an increasingly virtual and socially distanced workplace. Pick up the phone or answer it when it rings and share something useful. That’s what we learned to do in the early days of Twitter.

It still works today, however you connect and build relationships.

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan

Jeff Korhan is the owner of True Nature Marketing, a Naples, Fla.-based company helping entrepreneurs grow. Reach him at jeff@truenature.com. Jeff works with service companies that want to drive growth and enhance their brand experience with digital platforms.

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