Deliver WOW through Service – The Zappos Way

In this current series of Building Your Brand articles we are taking a look at companies from many different industries to gain an insight into some best business practices. Click here for the full list of articles.

We recently announced the launch of the revamped Customer Support Site and followed that up with an in-depth look at the new features. We also interviewed Matt and Jon, the team behind the redesign, to pick their brains about customer support.

They gave us some brilliant advice about online support sites and today we’re taking a look at Zappos to expand on that and discover what leads to elite customer service. In this case study we’ll be finding out what separates good service from excellent service and how we can all start to implement their advice into our own businesses.

Zappos is a Nevada based shoe and apparel retailer and are one of the most well-known brands in the United States. Much of the attention they are receiving is due to their excellent customer experience. They have set the bar for all other internet retailers with 24/7 support, an easy to use website, free shipping both ways and much more. Their reputation has grown rapidly with the rise of social media and they’ve become synonymous with elite customer service.

What’s so good about Zappos?

Zappos understands how important their customers are and they really care about their consumers. Every business decision is customer focussed and they have built an incredible culture internally to ensure their external actions reflect their brand values.

Zappos Experience The first experience you have with any internet retailer is generally via their website and the shoe giant recognises this. With over 1000 brands, over 100,000 styles, and over 3 million items in their warehouse it is vital for Zappos to ensure the website is intuitive and easy to use. Finding the product you want is simple thanks to their well-defined product categories. Once you get to the product page the information is typically thorough with User Reviews, multiple colour options and images, product videos and relevant product recommendations.

Unlike many online retailers they will not display a product unless it is physically in stock in their warehouse, even though this costs them 25% of potential revenue. The Zappos warehouse is also open 24/7 which is not the most efficient process but it means they can say they are always open and always able to supply the product you want, the next day.

Shopping safely online is also very important and Zappos take pride in ensuring their users are secure when shopping. Check out their Safe Shopping Guarantee.

Free Shipping – The biggest asset in Zappos’ customer service armoury is their free shipping and returns policy. Sometimes customers wish to return their purchase and with Zappos it’s as simple as printing out a pre-paid return label and whacking it on the back of the box. They have also brought in VIP status. Those with this special badge receive next day shipping for free for all orders!

The Support Team – Zappos take a unique approach to phone support. They want you to call. “The telephone is one of the best branding devices out there,” says Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh “If you get the interaction right.”

They want their support agents to spend as much time as possible on the call to really be helpful and ensure the customer experience is as positive as possible. There are no scripts, no upselling, no call times. And what’s their record for the longest call? Just over four hours!

If Zappos don’t have the product in stock the support team are trained to check three competitor websites and direct the caller to the product they want. They may lose the sale but they gain respect and the potential for custom in the future.

Zappos Family Core Values

Most businesses have a set of core values that they try to incorporate into the way they operate. The companies that are really successful at customer service are often the ones that really stay true to their values and reflect them in everything they do. Many companies come across inauthentic because their actions do not stay true to their core values. From the first day of the induction process at Zappos they really emphasise the importance of these values to their staff and it shows in their external actions.

I’ve outlined their value below and these are available in more detail on their About Micro Site.

  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

How can I improve my businesses customer service?

I’ve discussed this question with many people in lots of different industries of the past few months and I had originally planned to give you a list of top tips for improving customer service. The problem was that I began to see that these tips didn’t transfer well between industries and it is likely that they would not be relevant to your particular situation. Instead I saw a trend in the core message being given by those I talked to – Care about your staff and your customers.

It is that simple.

It’s all too easy to start analysing your external communication and actions when trying to find ways to improve your support without addressing the core issue – Ensuring your employees are happy and motivated.

If you search for Zappos on YouTube many of the videos from the company are focussed on the employees, everything from staff culture, Zappos family music video and induction processes. What becomes really clear is how the company have built a formidable staff force of loyal and enthusiastic people. The employees believe in the brand vision and making it a reality.

Authenticity has been one of the buzz words in customer service over the last 12 months but it is very relevant to today’s customer service environment. Word of mouth marketing has exploded thanks to the rise of social media and everything you do as a business can be seen and communicated by anyone.

However, consumers are much more aware of brand “bull s**t” and can see an unauthentic message coming from a mile away. So to ensure you are authentic you have to change the culture within the business.

The service you give to customers is fundamentally rooted in your staff. If your staff are happy and really care about the job they do and the people they are serving then this will result in great support. It leads to decisions that are focussed around the customer.

If you try to make support changes but don’t have the backing of the support staff and they don’t “buy into” the idea then you’re destined for failure. Luckily on the flip side if you do have their buy in and everyone is driven toward achieving a clear goal then you can make big support changes, such as free shipping, and turn your brand into an expert at customer service.

Before I go I’ll leave you with this video on Zappos corporate culture from Nightline.

[youtube tFyW5s_7ZWc nolink]

Written by James Hay, Social Media Coordinator at Fasthosts Internet Ltd.

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