Author: Kirbee Van De Berg

seek to serve

SEEK2SERVE SPOTLIGHT: How REI broke the mold by caring for its customers, employees and the environment

At Mereo, we dedicate ourselves to meeting the needs of our clients and colleagues; we seek to serve. As such, we regularly spotlight organizations and individuals that go above and beyond in customer service. In doing this, we not only applaud their success but hope to learn and gain inspiration from those who make service central to their businesses.

Despite humble beginnings as an exchange between hiking buddies, the company, formally known as Recreational Equipment, Inc., has become the nation’s largest consumer cooperative. Specializing in high-quality outdoor equipment and sporting goods, REI has taken its marketplace by storm.

However, selling superior outdoor goods is not the only key to REI’s success.

REI’s market offering goes well beyond hiking boots and bug spray. While a one-stop shop for any supplies customers may need, REI enables shoppers to “get outside and play” by educating, inspiring and guiding big adventures. As if that weren’t enough, the company’s emphasis on service is further reflected through its relationships with employees, local communities and the environment.

Serving Customers

Given its status as a consumer cooperative, REI focuses on its customers’ needs at all times and does well to provide them with resources to enjoy the great outdoors — across grassy plains, up and down hilly terrain and everywhere else in-between.

While REI’s products are of the highest quality and backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee, its customer education is arguably the greatest resource the company provides. In-store, knowledgeable employees (aka “outdoor enthusiasts”) assist customers and answer questions related to their area of expertise. This same experience is available online, where customers are provided with a multitude of information via message boards, adventure blogs, an in-depth learning center and live chat. In addition, various specs, videos, customer reviews and commonly asked questions accompanies each product on REI’s website.

Beyond information and gear, REI provides its customers with actual opportunities for adventure. From cycling through Tuscany to trekking Machu Picchu, REI Adventures, the company’s in-house travel agency, facilitates over 170 custom-designed excursions each year, managing to hit all seven continents in the process. REI also hosts countless fitness and stewardship classes, as well as local events and outings, across the country through its Outdoor School program.

REI uses social media to further inspire customers to head outdoors. The company’s wildly popular YouTube channel shares expert advice, testimonials and tips. Further, on Instagram, REI showcases customers in action, whether climbing a mountain or snorkeling in tropical waters.

The company’s 24-hour customer service department is also quite notable, having received praise in everything from countless customer testimonials to a feature in the popular novel/film “Wild.” Such references undoubtedly attest to the company’s emphasis on customer satisfaction and care.

Serving Employees

Having earned a spot on Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the last 20 years, REI prides itself in caring for its employees and their needs, and encourages them to lead healthy lives full of activity and adventure.

Beyond typical health coverage and discounts on merchandise, REI offers its employees several unique benefits. For one, employees are given two extra days off each year to “go outside and get inspired,” as well as paid time off for volunteering in their local communities. Also, back in 2015, REI became the first major retailer to shut its doors on Black Friday, providing employees a paid holiday to enjoy the fall weather and #OptOutside.  

Given its status as a cooperative, staff and employees receive a percentage of the company’s profits each year, with another chunk going toward projects that ultimately benefit employees and their communities. Further, REI offers fully paid sabbaticals to employees once they reach the 15-year mark with the company and tuition reimbursement for those attending college.

Serving the Environment

While outstanding customer service and employee care remain trademarks of REI’s brand, the company’s focus on sustainability, environmental conservation and community-building truly differentiate it from its competitors.

Internally, REI has taken huge steps to improve its own sustainability. All of its stores and facilities operate solely on renewable energy. Through various partnerships, REI has also created a product sustainability and recycling initiative with many of the brands it carries and opened the country’s most sustainable distribution center earlier this year. The company is also on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top 10 list of retailers in purchases of “green power” and by 2020 plans to eliminate its landfill waste completely, while also becoming climate-neutral.

That being said, REI’s service leadership extends far beyond its doors. Firmly committed to creating outdoor access for all, REI donated nearly 70% of its profits to the conservation community in 2016, supporting hundreds of non-profits. Further, REI has contributed to the building of our nation’s trail network, working to reshape how urban and suburban communities connect with and gain access to nature. In addition, the company recently launched its Force of Nature initiative, a $1 million effort focused on encouraging women and girls to connect with the outdoors.

REI also organizes various service outings and volunteer opportunities each year. Their efforts cover everything from community clean-up and assisting local businesses, to teaching children about environmental care.

As the nation’s largest consumer cooperative, REI has risen to prominence in recent years, far surpassing the expectations set for the average sporting goods retailer. REI maintains a standard of excellence in its customer service, employee care, community relations and sustainability. And it truly exemplifies “seeking to serve” and acts as inspiration to all businesses wishing to leave a lasting mark on their communities.

For more information on seeking to serve and it’s role within your company, contact us.




SEEK2SERVE SPOTLIGHT: How Zappos raised the customer service bar from the inside-out

Here at Mereo, we are dedicated to meeting the needs of our clients and colleagues — ultimately “seeking to serve” in all we do. As a result, we regularly spotlight organizations and individuals that go above and beyond in their customer service. In doing this, we not only applaud their success, but hope to learn and gain inspiration from those who make service central within their businesses.

To those who have never shopped on, the website may at first glance appear to be anything but extraordinary. Devoid of eye-catching graphics and enticing discounts, the company’s website, market offering and advertising (or lack thereof) seem average at best, especially when compared to its competitors.

Yet, Zappos has achieved insurmountable success in recent years.

In fact, Zappos went from a struggling start-up to household name almost overnight, taking the world of online shoe retail by storm. The company has consistently doubled its sales each year and currently generates over $2 billion in revenue annually. With roughly 1,500 employees, Zappos serves over 25 million customers worldwide, stocking over 1 million pairs of shoes as well as various brands of handbags, eyewear and clothing.

It is clear that Zappos’ apparent normalcy is only skin-deep. That being said, what is their secret?

Two words: Deliver and wow.

Differentiation in Customer Service

Zappos was founded by entrepreneur Nick Swinmurn in 1999. Hoping to fill a void present in the young online retail market, Swinmurn joined forces with now-CEO Tony Hsieh to develop a website in which customers could find exactly what they were looking for — shoes, and lots of them.

Faced with intense competition both on- and offline, Zappos began to differentiate itself by prioritizing customer service above all else. As the Zappo’s motto says, “We are a service company that happens to sell shoes. And handbags. And more…”

Tasked with “delivering wow” to each customer, Zappos employees became well-known for going above and beyond the call of duty in showing customers that they care. In fact, throughout the years, legendary testimonials showcasing employees’ dedication to customers have gained widespread exposure. For example:

  • In 2011, Zappos sent flowers to a customer who had sustained foot damage due to severe medical treatment. That same year, Zappos overnighted a free pair of wedding shoes to a shoeless best man.
  • In 2012, a customer service representative physically purchased an out-of-stock pair of shoes from a rival store for a nearby customer.
  • In 2016, an employee answered a customer-service call that lasted 10 hours and 43 minutes, breaking all previous company records.

Such testimonials maintain a key part of the company’s brand, further solidifying Zappos’ reputation as a leader in customer service. However, the story does not end there. Zappos employs a variety of tactics to create a culture of service, reflected not only in the company’s customer interactions but internally as well.

The Seek to Serve Culture Within Zappos

Zappos employs a variety of customer-friendly policies in its day-to-day operations. Such policies are designed to maximize customer satisfaction and include things like fast, free shipping and free returns — no questions asked.

Further, Zappos takes great pride in its highly trained customer support team, and places large amounts of both time and resources into its development. In doing so, the company provides customers with the friendly, hands-on care it is famous for. For example, all candidates are thoroughly interviewed and screened, and, once hired, support staff are required to complete seven weeks of on-the-job training geared specifically toward maintaining customer satisfaction. As a result of this intensive training, customer service representatives receive a large amount of freedom to go to extreme lengths to please customers. Further, in hopes of reducing communication barriers, Zappos refuses to outsource call center staff from foreign countries and strictly prohibits employees from utilizing scripts during customer interactions.

Though there is no doubt Zappos treats its customers phenomenally, the company’s culture of service extends much further. Guided by the belief that customer satisfaction is inherently linked to employee cohesion, support and engagement, Zappos does all it can to care for its employees and maintain its intended culture, and consistently promotes the “four C’s” (culture, customer service, community and clothing) within its walls.

The service-oriented culture begins during the recruitment process. In fact, before Zappos HR hires an employee, they must see clearly that his or her values match those of the company. This commitment is often tested again several weeks later, when new hires are offered money to quit their jobs in the middle of training.

Outside of recruitment, employees are encouraged to get to know each other on a personal level. To supplement this, Zappos’ management does all it can to create a fun, collaborative environment for its workers, going so far as to include a nap room, petting zoo, bowling alley and karaoke hall inside the company’s Las Vegas headquarters. Peer-selected awards and bonuses are also used frequently to boost morale and motivate employees. Further, management does well to promote equality amongst workers, and in recent years, has attempted to eliminate much of the bureaucratic “red tape” present within the company.

Clearly, Zappos takes great pride in serving both its customers and employees, ultimately setting itself apart from the competition through its all-encompassing culture of care. As a result, the company has not only experienced great financial success, recognition and brand loyalty, but has raised the bar as far as “seeking to serve” is concerned.

And that’s anything but average.