Zappos’ Santa Claus feat leaves big shoes to fill
A recent act of kindness by Zappos has some wondering if it could spin its reputation for feel-good experiences into a marketing tool. This likely isn’t even necessary – Zappos is secure in its ability to generate loyalty organically, and not through campaign stunts, because it begins at home. Here are six ways it achieves in-house loyalty.
An old saying proclaims something along the lines that a happy spouse makes a happy house. At Zappos.com, a happy house makes for happy communities.
The online footwear and apparel retailer, which has established a reputation for delivering feel-good experiences with disarmingly friendly service, has essentially opened its house to an entire town. Specifically, it sent its associates to serve as pre-season Santas, delivering gifts to every home in the college town of Hanover, N.H., where exceptionally loyal customers live, according to one report.
It is a small town, but the project was still an expansive undertaking. Over the course of an evening, the team of more than 30 Zappos employees delivered nearly 1,900 packages to individual doorsteps. The presents included warm-weather clothing, headphones, backpacks and (of course) shoes.
This resulting fanfare has some wondering if Zappos could expand its act of recognition into an annual event, causing people in other communities to place more orders in hopes their town would be the next recipient of Zappos' largesse. It is an intriguing thought, but I don't think Zappos works that way. Having been the lucky recipient of a guided tour of its headquarters and call center a few years ago, I can say Zappos is quite secure in its ability to generate loyalty organically, starting at home, and not through campaign stunts.
The trust it affords its team members to do what is right for the brand is why, with every transaction, Zappos leaves big shoes to fill.
Foot Race For Insiders
These transactions, not to mention the shoes, have established somewhat of a cult following among people who want to work for Zappos. And it may have been expanded with a significant organizational shift in 2014 that involved ditching management titles in favor of freedom-embracing roles. The purpose: Give every employee the power to make changes.
This transition was not for everyone. Many employees opted instead for a generous severance. Still, those who want to work for Zappos find themselves in a foot race for the finish. The chance of landing a job at Zappos stood at about one in 100 a couple years ago.
So laced up was the competition that Zappos in 2014 stopped posting specific job openings and instead established a membership for those who want to work there. The group, called Zappos Insiders, is "like a special membership for people who want to stay in touch with us," its website explains. The company advises those who would like to work for Zappos to join Insiders and create profiles. It also advises candidates to generate video cover letters and to follow it on any of its many social media outlets, including its biweekly #InsideZappos Tweetchats.
Among the questions Inside Zappos posed on its Dec. 3 Tweetchat: Do you have a secret talent? What is it?! (One follower is a Lego Master Builder.)
Culture of heart and sole, 6 ways
Being a master employer requires more than excellent perks, however — it also requires the skill to bring out the best in its associates.
Zappos appears to possess both. Among the tangible assets it offers its workers are free food, transportation stipends, massages and deep product discounts. Its single most valuable benefit, though, is intangible, and that is the trust it places in its team.
To illustrate how Zappos establishes its trust, I will share some of the loyalty lessons I picked up while touring its headquarters and call center.
Train well: Every Zappos employee candidate, regardless of role, is required to take four weeks of on-board training across various departments, including the call center. This is a forward-looking strategy: Because each Zappos employee is trained on the phones, the company does not have to bring in extra labor during peak holiday periods. After training, each new employee is given a final exam that carries a 90 percent passing grade.
A good fit requires a little letting out: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh understands a good fit is as critical to culture as it is to comfortable shoes. He wants every employee to feel at home under the Zappos roof, so after the first week of training, each trainee gets "the offer" to leave Zappos (the offer shakes out to a month's pay). If a candidate does not feel comfortable with the Zappos culture, he or she can take the money and leave, no hard feelings.
Coach toward goals: In 2004, Zappos established a Goals Department as a resource for employees to set and achieve specific aspirations. Instrumental in helping them reach these goals is a life coach who regularly consults workers on business and personal issues. Back when I toured, classes of 20 participated in goal-setting programs, and upon graduation they wrote their accomplishments on the walls of a special hall of fame. The success rate for achieving goals was 98.2 percent.
Empower the people: Every employee at Zappos is given the tools and guidance to become a senior leader, but it is up to the associate to get there. Workers are free to make career-defining customer decisions and are famously permitted to talk with customers for however long they deem necessary to result in a good experience. This freedom translates to individual rewards as workers use their imaginations to recognize loyal customers in their own ways — from flowers, to free shoes, to gifts for an entire community.
It honors its heroes: Recognition is appreciated in both small and big gestures. Zappos has held monthly company parades to honor employee "heroes." Outstanding employees also get to sit at the Desk of Epic Glory or the throne set up for life coach graduates. For those who prefer tangible recognition, there's the Zollar Store, where associates redeem Zappos currency, called zollars, that they have earned through goal achievements.
Support the freak flag: Creativity is the vital fluid that keeps Zappos' heart pumping, so the company encourages self-expression in many ways. Workstations are laden with personal items: a license plate that carries a worker’s name and hire date, a disco ball and a Star Wars Chewbacca cutout. During my tour, CEO Hsieh’'s desk sat in Monkey Row, covered in jungle vines. Employees also are free to decorate the conference rooms.
The inside of Zappos' operations may have changed a little over the past couple of years, but its ability to engender loyalty among communities and workers appears to be foundationally solid. As the town of Hanover, N.H., prepares for the holidays, I suspect many there, and elsewhere, will be on the Zappos.com site, looking forward to a delivery to their happy houses.
Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Digital Merchandising, eCommerce, Marketing, Merchandising, Mobile Retail, Omnichannel / Multichannel, Online Retailing, Retail - Apparel, Social Media, Technology
Bryan Pearson Bryan Pearson is President and CEO of LoyaltyOne Inc. and the author of the best-selling book The Loyalty Leap: Turning Customer Information into Customer Intimacy. www