From The Editor | January 31, 2011

How To Excel In Customer Service: Zappos Tells All

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Retail WFM 2011 Post-Show Wrap-Up

By Erin Harris, associate editor

Many retailers compete on price as opposed to service. Price matters, but your customer service strategy is the most critical tenet of your business. Indeed, commitment to continuous improvement in customer service is (or should be) a primary focus. As you look for ways to enhance customer service and motivate your staff, consider the things that will take your customer service from good to exceptional. Take some tips from Zappos, the e-tailer that has been earning high marks in customer service year after year. On the heels of Zappos winning top honors in customer service in the NRF Foundation/American Express Customers' Choice survey, I caught up with Scott Klein, manager of the Zappos customer loyalty team to ask him some questions about the company's award-winning customer service strategy. In short, at Zappos, customer service is a philosophy not a commodity.

Zappos has customer service down pat. What is the Zappos philosophy on maintaining exceptional customer service? What advice can you give to other retailers?

Klein: It's important that we stay strong in our 10 Zappos Core Values. Considering Zappos Core Value #10, Be Humble, I would be hesitant to say that we have "customer service down pat," because we're committed to continuous improvement. One of our top priorities is maintaining our level of service. We actually relate our service to our culture and values — as long as we keep our culture and values strong, we truly feel that we'll continue to improve and grow our business.

Our retail competitors can replicate what we do by simply putting service before profits, or at least give them equal weight. As Zappos grows and becomes more successful, we keep our eye on the prize, which is wow-ing our customers. We feel that we can be financially successful while also providing the best possible service. For some companies, this may deem a shift in priority. For example, retailers need to dedicate more resources to improving the customer experience, because in the end it comes back two-fold.


What's the most important lesson Zappos has learned about customer service? Why?

Klein: Never take your customers for granted, and listen to them. Never settle. Many companies get to a point where they hit cruise control, because things are going well. Zappos realizes that customers are our lifeblood — they're keeping us in business. The moment we take our customers for granted and stop listening is the moment that a competitor steps in and pushes us out of the way. Of course, we want to be known for world-class customer service, which is why we utilize our Zappos Core Values so heavily and base many of our decisions on them.


How does Zappos continuously improve/modify its customer service program?

Klein: First, we hire the best of the best. We take the recruitment process very seriously. The number of applications we receive versus the number of applicants we hire is comparable to the rate at which Harvard University accepts new students. We have a rigorous four-week cultural and customer service training program for all new employees. And, we have an additional three-week training program for our Zappos Customer Loyalty Team employees, who take the phone calls, emails, and live chats from our customers. Also, we have a "pipeline team" that provides additional training by helping employees learn about all aspects of our business and culture.

Customer suggestions are paramount. We respond to every single customer inquiry, whether it's via phone, email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, Zappos blog, etc. Many of our ideas and changes are inspired by customer feedback. We also gather and respond to internal feedback and make adjustments when it helps us to move the needle. Because we promote "Building Open and Honest Relationships With Communication (Core Value # 6)," employees are empowered to share any and all ideas to improve the company.

If you'd like to learn more about how Zappos created its culture, visit http://www.zapposinsights.com/main/.

Whether you operate bricks, clicks, or both, let us know what you're doing to improve customer service. Email me at erin.harris@jamesonpublishing.com.

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