At Zappos, Customer Experience = Marketing = Culture
They count customer experience improvements as marketing expenses. By offering free shipping and free return shipping, Zappos encourages customers to buy multiple sizes of the same shoe to make sure they get the right fit. And most repeat Zappos customers are “surprise” upgraded to overnight shipping – even when they order as late as 11:59 PM. Hsieh admitted that this is no small expense – but he argues that the delight this creates for customers brings them back again and again. So he doesn’t view line items like shipping as a drain on the company’s profits, but as a valuable marketing expenditure.
They talk to their customers on the phone. In his keynote, Hsieh called the telephone “one of the best branding devices out there.” Given today’s fragmented and frenetic media environment, Hsieh is spot on to recognize that there are few – if any – other channels where a brand can get someone’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes. So, unlike other major online retailers, Zappos puts its phone number right on the homepage and answers its phones 24/7. The result? Zappos racks up roughly 5,000 one-on-one customer experiences each day.
They don’t try to maximize every transaction. Zappos phone reps don’t have scripts, target call times, or sales-based performance incentives. In fact, one of the only things that reps are instructed to do is direct customers to competitors’ sites if what they’re looking for is out of stock at Zappos. Hsieh’s viewpoint: “We’re not trying to maximize every transaction. We’re looking to build lifelong relationships with our customers.”
They focus on developing the Zappos corporate culture. Hsieh shared his belief that culture and brand are just two sides of the same coin. To nurture the company culture, the Zappos management team focuses on hiring processes and new employee training (which include stints in the call center and warehouse – even for top execs). The new hire orientation program also includes a class about how to tweet on the Zappos twitter site. From Hsieh’s perspective, twitter helps employees to see each other as people – not just as coworkers. He believes that corporate culture is strengthened when employees find shared interests and meet up outside the office, something that twitter has helped to facilitate at Zappos.
Update on 3/22: You can get Tony Hsieh's SXSW slides on SlideShare.