7 Remarkable Customer Experience Insights from Zappos

Here’s how the online retailer Zappos has created – and nurtures – a continuum of happy employees and fans.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

When it comes to happy customers, online retailer Zappos is in a league of its own. Case in point: the first of its <a href=”http://www.zappos.com/d/about-zappos-culture”>10 core values</a>, which are repeated throughout Zappos.com, is to “Deliver WOW through service.”

These Zappos values, which also include “Create Fun and A Little Weirdness,” and culture, in which managers are “monkeys,” help constitute a unique brand that drives repeat – and new – business. In writing about Zappos’ decision to become an Amazon subsidiary in 2009, founder and CEO Tony Hsieh wrote about putting this culture above all else and how being good to Zappos employees has translated to best-in-class service. Amazon itself is no customer experience slouch.

Per a rep, the Amazon experience includes the ability to order virtually every product customers want or need from the comfort of home, as well as daily deals, free shipping on eligible items, an “ecosystem” via Amazon Prime that gives members access to content and storage, and product reviews, which help customers make informed decisions. But Zappos has nevertheless remained an independent entity with its own values and culture. “I believe that getting the culture right is the most important thing a company can do,” Hsieh said in Inc.

He went on to write a book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose, in 2010, which spurred a bus tour and an independent company that is promoting a full-fledged movement to inspire happiness throughout the world. As if that wasn’t enough to demonstrate Zappos’ customer experience prowess, the brand’s culture has spurred so much interest from outsiders, Zappos even launched a department, Zappos Insights, which it says helps share Zappos culture with the world via tours, Q&As, content and events.

In a recent conversation with Jon Wolske, a culture evangelist from Zappos Insights, Momentology asked about Zappos’ keys to customer experience success. Here’s Wolske’s take on what makes the Zappos experience unique and how the brand transforms customers into passionate fans:

1. Happiness, Through and Through

Wolske echoes Hsieh’s focus on employees and says Zappos culture ensures the brand provides great experiences both internally and externally. A peek at Zappos’ job site makes it clear Wolske and Hsieh are not just blowing smoke. Zappos pays 100 percent of employees’ medical, dental and vision premiums and offers 401(k) matching, employee housing benefits, nap pods and free puppies, as well as free food, classes and shuttle services and a 40 percent Zappos.com discount.

And, Wolske notes, happy employees use those same values to take care of Zappos customers. “The whole idea isn’t just about ‘What do we do for those buying shoes?’” Wolske says. “It’s about who are we as a brand and how do we live that for everybody?”

2. It’s All About Service

Indeed, Wolske says Zappos sees itself as a service company at its core – and one that happens to sell clothes and shoes to make money. In other words, customer service isn’t just what Zappos does for consumers shopping for products, but is rather an integral part of Zappos culture.

3. Ensuring the Right Fit

And it all starts with hiring employees who are aligned with the brand’s core values and who can then deliver consistently great experiences, Wolske says. “We invest on the front end to make sure it’s the right fit,” Wolske says.

4. ‘The Zappos Experience Every Time’

Further, consistency is one of Zappos’ biggest brand advantages, Wolske adds. The brand calls its phone team the “customer loyalty team” because it’s about providing a great experience and reinforcing it. “We do the Zappos experience every time,” Wolske says. “One of most frustrating things would be if something changed and now all of a sudden, we throw a policy in your face. It should always feel like Zappos, no matter how big or small the concern.”

5. ‘The #1 Tool Any Company Can Use is Listening’

And the consistent Zappos experience also comes from happy employees who are empowered to solve customer problems. “We answer, ‘How can I help you today?’ and then we listen and figure it out, no matter what the situation is, you get a consistent feeling for the brand,” Wolske adds. And, like any relationship perhaps, it’s listening that’s key. “When it comes to creating great experiences, the number one tool any company can use is listening,” Wolske says. “We don’t have a script we use.

There’s no ‘If then, this, here’s the answer.’ We listen.” In fact, Wolske says remarkable experiences don’t have to cost a lot of money – and they don’t even always have to go above and beyond. It’s simply about listening to what’s important in customers’ lives – and making it important to Zappos as well – and then coming up with resolutions to meet individual needs. “If you call and say, ‘I got shoes in a 9.5 and have to stand up all day at my cousin’s wedding, so I want a size 10 to make sure they’re comfortable,’ we can ultimately focus on the transaction and exchange it for a bigger size – we do that transaction every day – but you mentioned it was for your cousin’s wedding, [so we can say], ‘To make sure you get them in time, let’s verify your address,’ and then it becomes an experience rather than transaction,” Wolske adds.

6. ‘It’s An Investment in the Customer Experience’

But, he notes, Zappos isn’t offering perks that other companies couldn’t choose to extend to their customers as well, pointing to free shipping and returns as examples. “Companies can do it if they understand it’s not a cost you’re losing, it’s an investment in customer experience,” Wolske says. “When you make an investment, you look for a return. So it’s about changing the language from cost to investment.” Zappos’ 24-hour call center is another part of the customer experience that costs a lot of money, but, Wolske notes, “No matter what time customers want to call, we’re happy to say, ‘How can we help you today?”

7. ‘Word of Mouth is Driving Customers to be…Raving Fans’

And it works. In looking at customer and purchasing behavior data since Zappos was founded in 1999, Wolske says on an average day, 75 to 80 percent of Zappos.com visitors are returning customers. “When you get a good experience, you come back because you want it again,” Wolske says. Further, of the 25 percent of customers that are new, about 40 percent indicate that friends or family told them about the Zappos experience, per Wolske’s figures. “Word of mouth is driving customers to be not only loyal, but raving fans that will in turn drive new business,” Wolske says.

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.