Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Employee Satisfaction Makes for Happy Customers

Zappos.com and company culture
Zappos.com has earned a reputation based on dedicated customer service and a unique company culture. In her presentation, “Managing the Change: Building a Brand That Matters,” Naughton explored how these two facets of customer service and company culture are not mutually exclusive, and that in reality, one is necessary for the other to exist.

On Tuesday at the 2012 WCAA Conference, Jamie Naughton, the Speaker of the House at Zappos.com, discussed the importance of building a company brand that makes employees proud members of a team, rather than cogs in a machine. Zappos.com is an online shoe and apparel store founded in 1999 based in Henderson, Nev., not far from this year’s conference in Las Vegas. Amazon.com acquired the site in July 2009 for approximately $1.2 billion. Zappos.com has earned a reputation based on dedicated customer service and a unique company culture. In her presentation, “Managing the Change: Building a Brand That Matters,” Naughton explored how these two facets of customer service and company culture are not mutually exclusive, and that in reality, one is necessary for the other to exist. She broke down her presentation into the various aspects of the company’s vision that have helped Zappos.com achieve a defined and recognizable brand as well as customer and employee happiness.

Creating a Sustainable Brand

Naughton encouraged conference attendees to give a great deal of thought in terms of their newspaper’s brand and their role in perpetuating that image within their department. She said that, first and foremost, companies must make a decision to create a long-term brand and construct a business strategy that helps sustain it. That means, employees at all levels and in all departments must understand the definition of the brand and reflect it in their work. In order to decide what your brand is, you must take your company’s mission into consideration. For Zappos.com, it wasn’t just delivering shoes. Naughton said that it’s crucial for companies to look at the bigger picture when deciding on their brand. When Zappos.com did this, they decided that their mission wasn’t delivering shoes, but “delivering happiness.”

So what did it mean to “deliver happiness” to Zappos.com customers? Naughton says the answer was excellent customer service and everything it took to ensure that. For the site, this could mean surprise free or overnight shipping, amongst other bonuses. Naughton pointed out that this is what works for Zappos.com and is not necessarily universal. She encouraged WCAA-goers to take this as an example and apply it to their own offices. The important thing is to determine what your company values are and create a company culture based upon those principles. For instance, your ad department’s core value could be ensuring customer satisfaction for your advertisers. Perhaps that means regular in-person meetings with clients and shorter turnover in ad production time. These aspects trickle down into the inner workings of a company, helping determine who you hire, how they work and the product your clients receive, thus contributing to your over all brand.

Customer Service

As mentioned, Zappos.com decided that in order to create a brand that delivers happiness, excellent customer service needed to play a huge role. The site decided that in order to achieve its mission, they decided to treat it as a problem in need of a solution. In the case of delivering shoes and offering great customer service, Zappos.com created a 24/7 call center for any and all questions from customers. They also offer free returns and when customers call in (sometimes even when they don’t), they often offer surprise upgrades, such as free or overnight shipping. Naughton explained that for Zappos.com, the key isn’t maximizing the number of purchases, but rather optimizing the shoppers’ experiences. Sometimes this means not being the end-point for a sale, in fact, Zappos.com occasionally redirects customers to their competitors’ websites if they don’t carry what the customer is looking for.

Moreover, Zappos.com doesn’t track call time or set sales goals for their employees. They simply encourage the best customer service possible. This means empowering all employees to take the measures they deem necessary in order to give customers the best experience possible, especially employees in the call center. Naughton said that Zappos.com does everything in their power to avoid customer’s having to utter the words, “Can I speak with your manager?” Instead, employees in the call center have the same knowledge and authority to make those decisions on the spot while the customer is on the line.

Naughton explained that much of their revenue feeds back into providing great customer service, such as those unexpected bonuses on shipping time and cost, because these are the characteristics that keep customers coming back. The shoe site focuses on delivering happiness to each individual customer in order to build its customer base, because one customer that has a positive experience will then go on to tell a friend until the good news spreads to a larger audience. For example, Naughton noted a time when a customer called in to return a pair of shoes she was going to give to her mother, but her mother passed away before she could give them to her. In turn, the Zappos.com rep not only took care of the return, but also sent flowers to the customer. As a result, the customer wrote a blog about the experience, which was then read by someone who wrote an article on the story and it was eventually read by thousands of people. These are the types of experiences that stick with people and build long-lasting customer loyalty.

Company Culture

The other fundamental component of the site’s brand is their company culture. Zappos.com prides itself on hiring employees that are enthusiastic about their work and feel that they are a significant part of a team. In order to ensure that they are hiring and keeping the right employees that contribute to this culture, Zappos.com uses a unique employee performance review, hiring and firing system.

During the interview process, Zappos.com asks unique interview questions to determine if the jobseeker is right for their culture. For instance, they ask, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?” Naughton explained that the answers to this question are more telling than typical interview questions like, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” The responses give the interviewers insight into the applicant’s personality to see if they would fit in with the culture encouraged at Zappos.com.

Moreover, instead of yearly performance reviews, Zappos.com does weekly “culture reviews.” Naughton said that in order to preserve company culture, performance reviews shouldn’t wait until the end of the year; they should be an on-going conversation between employees and employer to get feedback on both ends of the spectrum. These reviews play a significant role after new employees are hired. After a week or so of working with Zappos.com, the new hire goes through this review to discuss whether or not it is a good fit. If the employer or manager suspects that it isn’t a good fit, they offer the employee $2,000 to quit. As the weeks go on, Zappos.com increases the offer to $3 to $4,000. These incentives ensure that the store is keeping the right employees who are dedicated and enthusiastic about the company’s work.

Naughton also said that Zappos.com is committed to transparency between employees and employers, as well as between the company and the public. For example, Naughton said that the company sends out regular newsletters that include an “Ask Me Anything” section where employees can anonymously ask questions to upper-level management — both the good and the bad. Additionally, Zappos.com allows reporters to come in and interview anyone at the warehouse. As Naughton pointed out, if you’re hiring the right people, you shouldn’t have to worry what they are going to say to the media.

Zappos.com also creates newsletters based on the interests of employees, like employees who are parents, who like soccer or Star Wars. These newsletters put employees in contact with other Zappos.com employees who enjoy the same things, but may not work in the same department. Therefore, employees feel a connection with one another, and consequently, a greater connection to their work, ultimately building a company culture that promotes employee happiness.