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The secret weapon of Zappos: patience

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

Tony Hsieh's Zappos identity badge in 2009
Online shoe retailer Zappos has gotten a lot of attention for its knockout customer service.

But Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”), founder of the billion-dollar company, says his secret of success is really about his employees.

“The No. 1 focus and priority for the company, even though we want the brand to be about customer service, is company culture,” he says. “Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, will just happen.”

What’s behind his thinking: Because organizations are now so transparent—anything they do, good or bad, can be reported instantly on the web—it’s more important than ever to run a harmonious workplace.

Two revealing aspects of Zappos:

1. All hires receive five weeks of training at company headquarters in Las Vegas (employees speak, unscripted, with customers). After the first week, every trainee gets a choice between staying with the firm or taking $2,000 plus expenses to leave. Those who stay (over 97%) can brag that they passed up an easy two grand to work at Zappos.

2. Employees go beyond filling orders. A woman called saying she was having trouble locating a specific type of boot for her husband. Zappos shipped them overnight. Days later, the customer called back: Her husband had been killed in a car accident and she needed help returning the boots. The call center agent not only took care of the return but sent flowers.

Hsieh encourages employees to put a human face on the company, engage with customers and share “behind the scene stuff” via social media. “Your culture and your brand are two sides of the same coin,” he says. A typical Hsieh tweet to his 1,950,000 followers lauds great customer service: (from the airport in Austin, Texas) “TSA guy giving a genuine, specific compliment to each person after passing through the metal detector. Wow.”

Asked why more organizations aren’t like Zappos, he offers one word: “Patience.” Most firms, Hsieh says, won’t put in the time to build employee morale and customer service. “It’s whether you’re willing to make that commitment.”

— Adapted from “Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh,” Knowledge@W.P. Carey, Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh.

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