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Taking a page from the Zappos playbookFebruary 28th, 2013 by
Back in February, GuildQuality started a library for members of our team, with the goal of sharing new ideas and continuous learning. We started with an initial set of books in the library and offered to pay for any book that our employees wanted to purchase, download, or listen to. We share what we’re reading and learning in our monthly team meetings.
The inspiration and one of the first books in our library was Delivering Happiness by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh. The book stimulated a lot of thinking about GuildQuality’s company culture and how best to hire the right people, foster learning, and enable everyone to “deliver happiness” to our members.
Zappos is one of many online sellers of shoes, but they stand out by providing “wow” experiences to their customers. Company lore includes customers who’ve called into support and asked where to find a hamburger for delivery at 3 am in New York City. The Zappos representative then finds the answer happily.
So, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, I visited Zappos headquarters to see how they do it, and to see whether they’ve maintained their culture en route to well over $1 billion in sales and a successful sale of the business to Amazon in 2009. Jerrod and Andy (members of our sales team) joined me.
Plain vanilla on the outside –
– wild and crazy on the inside. Yes, that’s Tony Hsieh’s desk!
Some things that caught my attention before the tour started:
1. The tour was free. Anyone can sign up here.
2. They offered to drive us from the airport or our hotel for free.
3. When we walked in, we were greeted by the receptionist, who offered us free drinks, food – whatever we wanted.
4. We were invited to peruse their library, which was next to reception. All of the books were available for $10, with the proceeds going to charity.
5. One of the books was their “Culture Book” for 2012, with personal vignettes about Zappos written by every employee. Bound, and available for free.
Employees were streaming into work wearing quasi-costumes, lots of “flare”, smiling, loud chatter, laughing. It was more like a college dorm than an office.
Once inside, we were struck by lots of things. We were escorted into the CLT area, which stands for Customer Loyalty Teams (code for support). This is where 600 of Zappos 1400 employees work, answering 10-14,000 inbound calls per day and responding to 2,000 emails and LiveChat sessions. Demand for this group is so high that they received 35,000 applications last quarter and interviewed about 1% of all applicants. This group is where the action is at Zappos.
I asked about training and metrics for the team. They don’t track call times (neither does GuildQuality, by the way) and they encourage the team to spend as much time as needed to delight the customer. They focus only on call resolution – did we help the customer with what they called in for? There are no call scripts, rather the employee is encouraged to express their individuality and personality in responding to the customer.
Supporting the individuality theme, employees are invited to decorate their workspace as they’d like. The end result is that the office looks like a jungle – a sea of Velvet Elvis prints, streamers, Halloween costumes, and more. As we walked by, the CLT members cheered and clapped while simultaneously working the phones. It was a cacophony of sounds and noise.
As we walked through the office, every twist and turn featured signs with their Core Values, which begins with #1 “Deliver Wow Through Service.” My favorite is #3 “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness”. They’ve got that one covered. Other values include being positive and humble. Those are really important to us at GuildQuality too. None of it seemed contrived – they talk about and live their values.
Other fun observations included:
1. The Zollar Store. Zappos has its own currency. Employees can give Zollars to other employees for helping them out or doing a great job. You buy Zappos “schwag” with your zollars.
2. Celebration Wall. They celebrate milestones such as a day when they sold $22M in one day. All employees got a tee shirt, which is framed on this wall.
3. Goals Club. This is a whiteboard wall in the stairwell. Employees write down goals they’ve accomplished such as “I lost 12 pounds” or “I can now find joy in any situation”. Other employees write encouraging words.
4. Personal coach. They’ve hired a certified personal coach, who works with anyone on any of their goals. The coach works in an office with a sign that reads “I am Royalty and Part of the Zappos Family.”
5. Wish Wall. The company has a website in which employees can make a wish and other employees can grant it. When granted, it’s written on the wall. Wishes ranged from serious to Celine Dion VIP tickets.
6. Free food all the time in the company cafeteria. They’ve hired a chef to cook up employees’ favorites.
So, what can GuildQuality and our members learn from Zappos? For me, the main message is that developing a great culture is the foundation for growth. I recently read a blog post that said: “My Company’s Culture will Kick Your Strategy’s Butt.” For Zappos, they maintained an advantage in a commoditized business through customer service. That started with happy employees, who trade on the currency of being nice and exceeding expectations. Culture = strategic advantage for Zappos.
Many of our members discuss these issues, and we certainly do at GuildQuality. We’ve gone ROWE, which helps us recruit the best talent and it helps us to reinforce one of Dan Pink’s key messages in Drive – employees are happiest when they have Control, Mastery, and Purpose – Control of their life, Mastery of their craft and Purpose in their work.
Whatever culture you establish – it needs to be authentic, and it needs to be aligned with a set of clearly articulated values. Zappos is a model to follow.
How do you build an awesome culture in your business? We want to hear your thoughts.