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Follow These 9 Steps to Copy Zappos' Exceptional Customer Service Strategy

How Zappos creates a customer-obsessed culture -- and you can, too.
Follow These 9 Steps to Copy Zappos' Exceptional Customer Service Strategy
Image credit: Shutterstock

Today more than ever, customer service really matters. Technology is starting to replace many conventional human interactions, but is that a good thing? We all know robot customer service reps fall short, and not meeting your customers' expectations has a damaging and lasting impact on your brand. As customer service standards continue to dip, delivering outstanding customer care is a truly fantastic way to differentiate your company from the rest of the herd.

Related: I'm Buying Your Customer Experience, Not Your Product

Here are our nine points to consider if you want your company to be customer-obsessed:

1. Does your company have clearly defined core values?

If yes, is customer focus, service or obsession one of them? Because it needs to be. If you don't have established values, define them and make sure customer focus, service or obsession is one of them.

At Zappos, we developed our core values using feedback from all of our teammates. Once the core values were set, we began incorporating them into every aspect of Zappos; from hiring and onboarding to tough business decisions and customer interactions, our clearly defined core values have become the core of what makes Zappos Zappos.

2. How do you define "customer"? Hint: It shouldn’t be just the folks who pay you.

If you expect to have a genuine customer-obsessed culture, think of your employees, vendors, shareholders and candidates as customers and treat them accordingly. A true customer service mindset isn't something that gets turned on when talking to a paying customer. It's an evergreen approach to all your interactions.

I and the rest of the Zappos recruiting team are constantly thinking of ways to wow new candidates while they’re still in the hiring process. A creative application that shows our fun culture and is the opposite of boring applications? Check. Pimped out conference rooms to set the stage for a genuine conversation rather than an interrogation? Check. A full tour of the campus? Check. Having the candidate's favorite drink ready for them when the interview starts? Definitely, check.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Your Customers Say 'WOW'

3. Are you hiring people who care about customer service?

You have to hire people who have the same philosophy about customer service as you do. Screening for culture and values alignment is as important as screening for technical skills.

Early on at Zappos, we recognized the need for two distinctly different interviews. The first is to assess the candidate's technical capabilities, making sure he or she can actually do the work the position calls for. The second is to assess a candidate's cultural alignment. We have specially trained recruiters who conduct cultural alignment interviews, and if they sense a red flag -- if they sense the candidate doesn't care about customer service the way we do -- we will not move forward with said candidate.

4. Do you have onboarding programs that emphasize customer service?

Yes, HR paperwork needs to get done, but if customer obsession is your goal, put your money where your mouth is. Create a program where every new hire -- regardless of level, position or department -- learns about customer service and has the chance to actually practice it. There's no better way to show your employees that customer service is more than just a role or a department; it should be a company-wide focus.

For extra credit, consider having all of your employees pitch in to support the customer service team during peak moments of the year, like the holiday season, July 4th weekend, etc. Our busiest time at Zappos is the holiday season; during that period, all employees take at least 10 hours of customer service calls -- myself included.

Related: Want to Drive Growth? Improve Customer Support.

5. Do you have more customer service rules and policies than common sense?

Shit happens and c'est la vie. There’s no way to predict every customer scenario your employees may deal with, and even if you could, writing them painstakingly out as a 500-page policies and procedures playbook is kind of crazy. That only forces your employees into situations where they may come off as scripted or disingenuous.

Even after four weeks of onboarding and training, focusing the entire time on how to make that personal, emotional connection we’re so known for, the Zappos customer loyalty team still follows just one general rule: “Always do what's right for the customer!”

6. Is the employee closest to the customer making the decisions as to what’s best for said customer?

"Empowerment" may seem like a buzz word, but you really do need to let your employees make the final call for the customer’s sake. Don't force your customer service representatives to jump through multiple hoops before they can get approval to give their customers what they need -- give your employees the power to make executive decisions and watch your customers smile.

One of the primary lessons in our new hire training is the importance of personal emotional connections (PEC) with customers. We tell our new recruits that they are the empowered ones and can do what’s necessary to make their customers happy. We tell them: “You are the one with the PEC; you read their energy and their tone best; you should do what you think is best! No need to check with anyone else.”

Related: The 4 Top Customer Service Screw-Ups You Must Avoid

7. Do you celebrate awesome customer service stories?

When your customers experience your customer obsession, they’ll talk about it, tweet about it and blog about it. Share that feedback with all of your employees and celebrate the happiness that they were a part of delivering. Set up programs where peers can recognize one another for providing great customer service. It not only builds engagement but reaffirms your focus on delivering customer satisfaction.

One of the most popular peer-to-peer programs at Zappos is the co-worker bonus. Each month, every employee is able to give a coworker $50. The criteria? Simply that your coworker went above and beyond for you.

8. Do you give your customers what they want before they know what they want?

If you are truly focused on your customers and really, really listening to them, you’ll be able to accurately guess what they’ll want next. These sage words were given by Jeff Bezos just after Amazon acquired Zappos. It's not your customer's job to tell you what they need -- it's your job to predict those needs. You should think long-term and continually innovate, recognizing that some of your new ideas may take five years or more to come to fruition. Don’t quit on something promising just because of short-sighted pressure.

Back when Zappos was still in its infancy, a lot of people said, “No way will people buy shoes online without even trying them on.” In fact, some of our own customers expressed that concern. So, we listened to our customers and came up with a solution: We would allow customers to order the same shoe in multiple sizes to try them on in the comfort of their homes, with free shipping and free returns. It's an offering we state loud and clear to this day.

9. Are you living your customer obsession in every aspect of your business?

Being focused on customer service requires dedication. You should spread it around to everyone in your company. Set clear expectations for new hires surrounding it, trust your employees to deliver it, celebrate it and innovate on your customers' behalf to nail it. Customer Service: It should always be capitalized. It's that important.

All Zapponians know that delivering amazing customer service is what’s at the heart of our organization. In fact, it's the Zappos company purpose: “To live and deliver 'WOW!'”

A Note From The Editor

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