Zappos has a customer experience strategy that works. The retailer has risen 39 places in the US Customer Experience Excellence rankings, placing it in the United States top 10 alongside other high-achieving companies such as Amazon, Publix and H-E-B. This kind of success takes hard work and focus. Often, it can be best for organisations to put the customer at the heart of every decision, and Zappos does just this. And yet it also places a significant emphasis on the employee, recognising that a successful CX strategy can only be properly implemented when a company is underpinned by a team of passionate workers.
Zappos was founded in 1999 and has gone on to become one of the world’s largest online shoe stores. Although its overall product range is wider than this, with the company’s ‘raison d’être’ being to act as “a service company that happens to sell shoes. And handbags. And more…”, as its strapline attests. Zappos was acquired by Amazon in 2009, in a deal that was reported to be worth $1.2 billion, although its product range has adhered to fashion retail and hasn’t branched out into the wider world of the Amazon offering.
One of the things the company focused on cultivating, though, is its customer experience strategy. Zappos wanted to see things from the shoppers’ point of view, and to give them the best possible experience. This approach manifested itself in many ways, but one of the most interesting of these was in the company’s handling of telephone conversations. Zappos made it clear that it didn’t mind how long these customer interactions lasted, so long as the problem or query was resolved satisfactorily. In fact, the longest conversation on record went on for an incredible eight hours, with the employee staying with the customer until the issue had been worked through. It is not surprising, therefore, that Zappos’ subsequent scores across The Six Pillars were particularly strong in the areas of Resolution and Empathy, with the brand scoring 14 per cent higher than the US average in both instances.
One shopper had a particularly memorable experience when they telephoned to discuss exchanging an unwanted item. “The rep and I got to talking about other things because she had mentioned that she was new to the West Coast and just loved the mountains,” they explained. “We traded recommendations about places to visit and ended up talking about my new baby and her pregnancy… It was so nice that she took the time to have a fun personal conversation…”
Behind these interactions, though, are dedicated employees that Zappos is keen to look after and nurture. It expects them to spend at least 80 per cent of their time in customer-facing situations, but it does not pressure them into reducing their call times. In addition, they are able to accrue paid time off depending on how many hours they’ve put in, meaning that they are arguably more motivated and energised. And energy levels are important to the brand, as Zappos believes that well-rested workers are happy workers, and that happy workers give the best level of service.
It also operates a democratic environment. Zappos has embraced a philosophy of ‘Holocracy,’ which means that management positions have been scrapped and that the employees are allowed to decide for themselves how to approach tasks. In practice, this means that the operational decisions are made by those workers who are closest to the front line. There is little risk of anarchy, though, as the company is led by a set of principles and rules from a Holacracy constitution, and these offer guidance on customer and organisational resource issues. The thinking behind this approach is that, if a problem arises more than once, a different team of people will address it each time, meaning that there is a greater likelihood for discovering the best, most innovative solution to each challenge.
This sits alongside the internal ‘Zappos Labs,’ which are focussed on solving people’s pain points and creating optimised customer experiences across all channels. An example of this can be seen in the brand’s mobile app, which allows consumers to shop and ‘favourite’ items across a range of different devices. They can also take photographs of items they see on the street, and then send these pictures to Zappos employees – via text, email or Instagram – who will then find the item and send the relevant link back to the customer, so that they can purchase it online.
In addition, the retailer takes the time to train its workers in the art of building a personal emotional connection with the shopper. As part of its customer experience strategy, it created a Happiness Experience Form, which encouraged employees to try at least twice to connect with the customer on an individual level. The form also stated that this connection should be sustained throughout the interaction, and that the worker should also address any unstated customer needs, whilst providing an overall “wow experience.”
It’s an initiative that paid off for Zappos, with its score in the pillar of Personalisation standing six per cent higher than the overall US average. In fact, few companies in the 2016 US CEE analysis took such a meticulous and deep approach when it came to the physical and emotional needs of its employees and shoppers. It’s a strategy that enabled Zappos to become a top 10 customer brand, and it’s a strategy that will doubtless take the retailer even further as it heads into 2017.