Lessons We Can Learn From Zappos Part 1 of 2

By Tinuiti Team

Check out Part 2 Here.

One of business’ age old secrets is to identify who’s doing things right, emulate them, and improve upon their success.  Well, maybe its not a secret, but it’s definitely no secret that since 2008 Zappos has been a titan in the online retail world.  Thanks to the vision of CEO Tony Hsieh, Zappos has blossomed into what once was exclusively a shoe retailer into a seller of clothing, cosmetics, and housewares as well.  Want proof?  Go look for some shoes on any major CSE and you’ll be likely to see more than one Zappos listings in the top 5 results.

So how has Zappos been able to achieve such success?  The short answer is focus.  The long answer is customer service.  Here’s what made Zappos such a stand out in an ecommerce world of millions of retailers.

Customer Service

You don’t make an impact in today’s online retail world without being unique.  The same quandary of how to achieve “uniqueness” has been on the minds of almost every retailer since they began their business endeavors.  Zappos chose customer service.  It is their unique selling proposition (USP), their core competency, and their lifeblood.  It’s what sets them apart from everyone else.

Zappos’ customer service revolves around their call center.  The call center is focused around 2 things: the right employees and creating an emotional impact.  Tony Hsieh put so much emphasis on hiring the right employees that in 2004, he decided to move Zappos from San Francisco to Las Vegas in order to find a better source to find the right employees and a more suitable environment that would cater to that type of employee.  That type?  Simply put, an employee that can deliver an extraordinary, rather, unordinary experience to customers.

It’s important to find the right customer service employees because those people cultivate your brand and reputation, as it’s seen by the customers.  These people need to be at ease, able to talk for hours, and able to relate to another human being.  After all, you don’t need me to tell you that a great, not good, customer experience increases the likelihood that they will return to your business in the future.

Zappos does 2 unique things with their customer service call center.  They throw out scripts and they don’t measure call times to measure customer engagement.  Scripts only detract from an employee’s ability to let their personality shine and call times are simply not indicative of how well a customer was served.  An emotional impact is the most crucial aspect of customer service.  To engage with someone that has reached out to you, create a memorable experience, and then use that engagement later on after the initial conversation to make the customer’s life easier, often by surprise, is one of the most remarkable and powerful marketing tools one could harness.


Zappos considers any investment into their call center, and customer service expenses in general, to be part of their marketing/advertising spend.  The company strongly believes that the best marketing strategy is word of mouth, and so they rely heavily on their call center to generate great experiences so that customers do the advertising for them.

Most retailers will bury their contact information in their website, but not Zappos.  They WANT you to call because they have such confidence in their call center to further market the brand with great customer service.  This is why you’ll see Zappos’ phone number very prominently thrown up at the top of every page of their website.

You might be questioning Zappos’ emphasis on the telephone.  What about the exploding number of users on social media?  The telephone is marketing’s #1 most underrated branding tool because it alone garners the lion’s share of a customer’s cognitive attention during the length of an engagement.  Thus, it facilitates creating an emotional connection with a customer more so than any other means of communication.


You, too, can make your customer service exceptional.  If you choose to do so, you have to first start out with the mentality that customer service is going to be your whole company, not just one sector or department of your business.  Along with your emphasis on customer service, you must empower call representatives so that there is never any need for a customer to be referred to a supervisor/manager.  For customer service, and really in any business venture you choose to pursue, you need to focus on what business aspect you can be the BEST in the world at.  Get rid of the extraneous programs that detract from your focus.

Simplification and focus are why companies like Walgreens (they used to run restaurants), Apple, and Zappos have experienced major success.  Make your business stand out.

Continue on to Part 2 of “Lessons We Can Learn from Zappos”

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