Tony Hsieh, one of the founders of Zappos — online shoe store that was acquired by Amazon some time ago — told a story about a sales conference in Santa Monica he had attended. He gave a presentation about the incredible customer service that had already helped in building Zappos’ famous brand. And after the conference, he hit the town along with some friends.
Wandering around bars came to an end long after midnight in the hotel room of one of the conference’s participants. A crowd of worn out wanderers decided they wanted to order a pepperoni pizza, but the hotel staff informed them that room service ended at 11 pm – long before they even entered the hotel lobby. During the discussion on what to do next, one of the friends said they should call Zappos since they have such an excellent customer service. Call online shoe store. To order pizza. At 3 am.
A Zappos employee who listened to this strange (and — I am willing to bet — sometimes mumbled) request hesitated for just a moment. She’s put the group on hold (yes, a group, the phone in the hotel room was set to loudspeaker), but after no more than two minutes she came back to them with information on all the pizza places that were open in the vicinity of their Santa Monica hotel, and were offering a night delivery.
Tony Hsieh claims — and I am inclined to believe him — that the witnesses of this event have been loyal Zappos customers ever since.
Three Layers of Culture Building In Organization
So how do you build such a culture in your organization? Stephen Denning, the author of Radical Leader’s Guide To Radical Management claims you need to build it simultaneously on three layers. First one is leadership tools — with storytelling and role-playing among the most important ones. As for Zappos, they were using rules from improv theater. Their customer service guidebook consists a very important instruction: use your common sense and good judgment whenever possible. This does not mean that employees are left on their own. One of the improv rules says Make your partner look good and it is reflected in Zappos’ Deliver WOW through service — the customer is always the most important. It does not mean he’s always right, but he’s important.
The second level of cultural change emerges through management tools — a set of measures and evaluations, corporate rituals and… tradition. Tony Hsieh took care of this aspect as well, Zappos style, of course. New employees — after they’ve finished their probation period — are given The Offer. They will receive their two-month salary, no questions asked if… they quit their jobs here and now. Zappos founder claims that you cannot experience the company, cannot experience the everyday work through the recruitment process and only after you’ve finished your probation period can you tell whether you want to stay or not. And money helps in making this decision. An unhappy employee is a problem for both the company and the customer Hsieh says.
If the company got the previous two layers of cultural change right, it does not need power tools (such as threats or obligations). Yet they need to be developed because there will be some who resist change.
Power Tools are used to alter behaviors while Management Tools layer is used to influence habits. Leadership tools are all about beliefs. Here’s the twist, though. As a manager, you can’t stand in front of your people and tell them to believe in something. Yet this is exactly what many managers do: they write “company values” (such as integrity, responsibility) on the wall and tell people to start acting accordingly. You know what happens then? People nod and return to business as usual. Because if you don’t define behaviors that are encouraged (obligations) and those that will be punished (threats), you cannot have a coherent culture.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, paid one billion dollars for Zappos organizational culture. Not for the brand, not for the market, but for the culture (and they started implementing some of the ideas from Zappos at Amazon). What would happen if someone tried to order pizza at your company’s customer service line?
Zappos way can and should be copied, we have plenty of examples of customer service becoming the new marketing. Here’s another one: Brand24 — a company that grows at an astonishing rate not only because of a good product, but also thanks to make the customer look good philosophy. They’re located in Poland but have customers all around the globe. And when one of them (this one from Nigeria) asks during the service set-up about a good movie? They will not only recommend one to you, they will also find a movie theater in your neighborhood you can go to.