new socks: the last post you ever need to read about Zappos

I ordered several pairs of running socks from Zappos last night and am pretty jazzed about it (it’s the little things that make a good life, right?). After I clicked the purchase button, it struck me – why are there any articles written about Zappos?

The internet is awash with articles and posts about the online shoe store, but why? Yes, they operate differently, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure why that difference works so well. Zappos makes it supereasy to purchase a huge variety of shoes, etc. at reasonable prices with zero risk that it won’t fit or you won’t like it, and deliver them quicker than should be possible. If anything does go wrong, they immediately bend over backwards to more than make it right. Their entire company – every process and system and policy – exists to enable a great customer experience and somehow the business world is surprised that Zappos has an enthusiastic (fanatical?) customer base lining up to give them money. Who knew that people might want to do business with a company that treats them well?

Are we in the business world truly that thick?

But what about their culture?” some might ask. “They have a unique culture and are so successful, shouldn’t we try to figure out how to copy them? What about all their employees with blue hair coming to work in their pajamas? That’s weird isn’t it? Shouldn’t all us business and HR types be discussing how awesome/strange/wonderful/it-will-never-work that is? Shouldn’t we be desperately trying to figure out how to bring the Zappos culture and magic into our workplaces?

As near as I can tell with my very low level of expertise (I once toured their HQ and I have bought some stuff from them), their unique culture and the unique results it creates is based on two things: 1) customer experience is everything; and 2) the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience (they don’t say it that way, they just live it). They commit to hiring great people who want to provide an amazing experience for customers and then create a work environment where those employees can and are expected to do just that. Create a great employee experience and the employees will create a great customer experience.

It’s an embarrassingly simple and devastatingly, disruptively effective approach. And, most businesses predictably ignore it. Puttnam’s Law tells us it’s better to fail doing what everyone else is doing than to succeed by doing different.

Sure, we could build a business around the customer and employee experience. Or, we could just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, keep getting the same results, and read some more articles about what Zappos.



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