At Zappos culture is king

There are some companies that seem completely unafraid to do things differently. While others cling desperately to business as usual, I admire organizations who try alternative ideas and Zappos is one of these companies. For those outside of the US who have not yet heard of Zappos, they sell shoes and clothes online and they do so with huge success: Their sales for 2011 was $2 billion. Not bad for a company that’s only 12 years old.

Zappos have about 1,500 employees in their HQ in Las Vegas and another 1,000 in the warehouse in Kentucky where all products are shipped from. And what truly separates them from many other organizations is how they treat their people. Zappos has committed itself to great service and has realized that the only way to consistently deliver great service is to have happy employees.

1. They have a culture that promotes happiness at work

Zappos is committed to defining and living a positive, happy culture.Their values are:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

They hire people based on who will fit into the culture, and they’re quick to fire those who turn out not to fit. Their hiring mantra is “hire slowly, fire quickly”.
Typical interview questions include:
If you had a theme song, that played every time you walked into a room, what would it be?
On a scale from 1 to 10, how lucky are you?

2: They pay new employees to quit

To make sure that new hires join Zappos for the culture and not for the money, they will give all new people the offer. It’s simple: If you quit in the first 2 months, you get your salary plus an extra $2,000. Yes, you read that right: Zappos will pay people to quit. And since most new positions are in the call center or warehouse (jobs that don’t pay all that well) $2,000 is serious money.
Zappos have had to adjust that policy recently: Because of the financial crisis, less and less people took the offer, preferring to stay in a stable paying job even if they weren’t that thrilled about the workplace. So Zappos have now upped the amount to $3,000. In addition they also pay their people a salary that is above average and offer great perks like free food, free snacks, etc.
Here’s an interview where Bill Taylor (formerly of Fast Company) talks about it.

3: They behave like human beings. Great human beings

The fact that people are happy at work (yes, even the ones answering the phone) means that they give incredibly good customer service.
And often that service goes above and beyond. I dare you to readthis story and not shed a tear.

The upshot

The result of this and more (like great parties, freedom to design your own workspace, etc.) is a happy workforce and excellent customer service.

It doesn’t stop with the culture – their business model is equally great. 1 year return policy on all products, free return shipping, their 1-800 number is right at the top of every web page (they actually want customers to call them) and when you do call in, a live rep is only one keypress away, not buried somewhere in a phone menu labyrinth. In fact, average wait times hover around 20 seconds – when other companies can easily take 20 minutes to reach on the phone.
All of this and more is described in Tony Hsieh’s excellent book Delivering Happiness and I highly recommend it. Not only is it a fun and easy read, it offers a great insight into the history and practices of Zappos and it’s always fun to hear from people and organizations who are not only unafraid of trying new ideas but who seem to revel in it. Zappos definitely do.

This is not rocket science – and companies like Google, Southwest Airlines, SAS Insititute, Disney, Pixar and many many others will testify to the fact that this philosophy works.

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