Customer Experience News & Trends

5 customer service lessons from the late Tony Hsieh

If you’ve been writing – and reading – about customer service as long as I have, you know the late Zappos founder Tony Hsieh was a pillar in this field. His ideas and ideals hold true today.

Hsieh pioneered the new customer experience.

I covered a conference where he spoke more than a decade ago, when the CX movement was emerging from plain old customer service.

He shared company details, strategies, everyday tactics and anecdotes like an old friend. He didn’t hold back in fear of others stealing the ideas that made Zappos innovative and loved by customers. He wanted everyone to be as good at customer service as they were.

So in the wake of his death last month, here are some of the greatest tips he shared with us at Customer Experience Insight – and we’ll share with you again:

Recruit right

After several rounds of interviews, which include tests on how creative and crazy candidates are, Zappos offers new hires big money to bow out of its initial training program.

One week into training, Zappos offers new hires their pay, plus a few thousand dollars to walk away if they don’t think they want to be part of the team. The idea is to weed out people who don’t buy into the esprit de corps Hsieh had created. Those who stay — and it’s about 97% of the trainees — adopt the corporate culture of customer service.

Connect with customers

At Zappos, front-line customer service employees are encouraged to make PECs (Personal Emotional Connections) on every call. Hsieh believed they should do more than handle transactions. Service pros should listen for personal details. Then build on them. 

For instance, if they hear a dog bark, they might ask about the breed. If a customer mentions something sad, such as a death in the family, the employee might send flowers. At one point, Zappos even started routing calls from specific states to employees who are also from those states.

Have fun

So much of the corporate world – customer service, in particular – can be mundane, which can hurt morale and the drive to do a great job. It wasn’t something Hsieh wanted for Zappos.

That’s why Hsieh encouraged Zappos’ leaders do what they can to make the workplace more fun. In fact, the Third Rule on the Zappos Family Core is: Create Fun and a Little Weirdness.

The company tries to hire naturally creative and fun people. Customer service employees often add their personal dose of humor when they help customers.

Be flexible

At Zappos, Hsieh insisted employees were empowered – and not hand-tied by strict policies or micromanagers.

Customer service reps get resources to do what they feel is right for customers – anything from ordering and sending pizza and flowers to taking a $1,000 return at a loss to the company.

Stay open minded

Another of the core beliefs Hsieh created and believed in is “Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded.”

To that end, contact center reps don’t use scripts, and their bosses don’t measure call time. Translation: Reps can stay open-minded to what customers say and are given the time to be as creative as possible to make the experience superb for customers.

That’s much of the reason Zappos’ customer satisfaction scores are consistently in the 90s.

Hsieh made customer service the differentiator in online business. Even better, the bar he set has helped raise the customer experience across industries and platforms.

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