Service So Good it Changed the Game

Readers of this space know that we are, to say the least, passionate about customer service.  REAL customer service, not the pre-defined, pre-packaged, beware-of-the-fine-print kind of customer service.  For that reason, certain businesses have warm spots in our hearts.  Zappos is one of those businesses. 

I will freely admit that I have never purchased anything from Zappos.  But I have read and heard and seen so much about them.  And I think I love them.  Two things always stand out: outstanding customer service, and a wacky, fun work environment.  I don't think these two things are unrelated.

AdAge recently published an article called Is Customer Service a Media Channel? Ask Zappos.  In the article, author Pete Blackshaw states

"Zappos is a game changer, and it found value — and ferocious
word-of-mouth and brand advocacy — in a place most of us leave for
dead and certainly don't consider even close to being a media channel:
customer service. They took this "cost center" input and turned it into
an unassailable asset, fortified by the founder-CEO's sometimes
"cult-like" (arguably irrational, by the typical marketing book)
obsession with serving the consumer at all costs."

The game-changing aspect that Blackshaw points to is Zappos' challenging the long-standing tradition of viewing "customer service" as a cost center, a necessary evil where calls can be quickly dispatched to barely-trained entry-level employees who would rather be doing anything else in the world.

By providing a fun and engaging work environment, Zappos has attracted a certain level of enthusiastic employees.  Their enthusiasm is barely containable when they interact with customers, and the customers are energized by the experience. 

Zappos is not the most inexpensive shoe seller in the world, not by a long shot.  You don't go there looking for bargains.  And they are an online-only shop.  They sell shoes, for heaven's sake!  Something that my mother used to have me try on dozens of pairs of, in order to fine the one pair that felt right, and didn't look totally dorky.  And Zappos is raking in the bucks.  Why?

Because their service is legendary.  And they are leveraging it, and not by actively marketing it.  They let their customers do that for them. 

Now we see that another pillar of service, Amazon.com, has purchased Zappos for a billion bucks.  This is interesting.  Amazon has been a real pioneer in self-service… their philosophy is that a great customer experience does not require human interaction if the systems are set up correctly and functioning properly.  I find it difficult to challenge their premise, as I have never had a negative experience with Amazon.  Based on past purchases and recent viewing, they helpfully yet unobtrusively suggest other items of interest.  But they just laid out a big chunk of change for a company known for brilliant service on the other side of the dial – the human interactive service.

It is no great shock that Amazon has bought a shoe store; they've dipped into a lot of product lines since their bookstore days.  But could this expenditure portend an evolution in Amazon's automated service delivery?  It's like a team with great pitching just acquired a bunch of the top hitters in the league.  This could get interesting, very quickly.

   — Chuck Dennis

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