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Customer service is a lead generator

February 4, 2008

There were three themes that were reiterated again and again at the Customer Service is the New Marketing conference in SF today:

  1. Open, transparent, and honest conversations are important
  2. Empowering community is the best way to scale
  3. Make a real big effort to help your customers; even if you don’t always succeed, people appreciate that you’re trying.

Keynote about culture

Probably the most riveting presentation was the keynote delivered by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos. Tony kept reiterating the idea of creating a great culture of service. Zappos is not a company with a mission to sell merchandise, it’s a company built to offer great service. They just happen to sell shoes.

Now, that may appear obvious to people reading this. Of course you focus on providing great service. But that’s not what most companies do. Most companies focus on making the sale. Service is frequently usually an afterthought.

Most companies focus on new customers and lead generation, but here’s a case where service is the lead gen device. Good service means repeat customers and word of mouth. Zappos tries to get more repeat customers, not necessarily new customers. That’s a different lead gen strategy! In a commoditized world like shoes, service is the differentiator. Their sales and growth to-date would seem to support that focusing on service was a good choice.

How do you foster a culture of great customer service?

Creating the right culture is what keeps Tony up at night. Not sales, not merchandising, not operations… culture.

To address culture, everyone in the company — whether you’re in sales, service, or merchandising — everyone, gets 5-weeks of training. It includes immersion in the culture, core values, customer service, warehouse, and more.

What are those core values? He listed the company’s 10 core values. I jotted down about half of them, the ones that struck me as particularly innovative:

#1. Deliver “wow” through service
The word “wow” was borrowed from the things their customers tell them. Customers repeatedly begin their emails with the word. They’re amazed at how Zappos lives their promise of fast and no-questions-asked customer service. Zappos took this idea and built it into their core values.

Waitaminute. Zappos took what customers were saying and put it into their core values. That’s a powerful way to reinforce a cool thing and it makes a statement to employees how powerful their customers are. Wow.

#3. Create fun and a little weirdness
Being different makes them more memorable, a fun place to work. Maybe most importantly, it makes it easier to recruit the “right” people. More of the right people helps ensure the culture will thrive.

#6. Build open and honest relationships with communities
Honesty, transparency, openness was a theme throughout the day.

#10. Be humble
He’s the CEO? That’s exactly what I thought when Tony first took the stage. He was unassuming and a little bashful. Then he revealed this 10th core value and it made a lot of sense. He was so un-CEO-like (ie, humble) that I could see the company walked the talk, from the CEO on down.

Putting your money where your mouth is

The last thing I’ll mention about Zappos:

Most call centers train their employees to hang up the phone as fast as possible; answer the question, then hang up. Not so at Zappos. Zappos’ call-center reps are not measured on call time.

They don’t often like hiring people with call center experience, because it means they have to retrain them. They’d rather hire people that believe in providing excellent customer service. Because no one is measured on call time, Zappos is perfectly content to let a call center rep stay on the phone with the customer for over an hour… even if a sale doesn’t result from the call.

That’s smart.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2008 11:05 pm

    What Zappos is doing makes me believe all the more in the power of customer service to change the business scenario.


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