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.