Large online retailers like Amazon generate a fair share of negative comments; one friend recently quipped, “every time you buy something from Amazon, you make someone’s life worse.” Bezos and Co. changed the way we shop, but not without some collateral damage.
Zappos, which is owned by Amazon, dances to a different song; the company was founded with the vision of customer service above all and has steadfastly maintained that ethos through massive growth. The site can indeed provide the outdoor enthusiast with footwear in the most efficient way, but the people of Zappos strive to do a lot more.
Sticking to OG Company Culture
Amazon acquired Zappos.com in 2009, but took a hands-off approach, letting the former shoe-only online retailer continue to exercise its tagline: Powered by Service. The company culture mandates a you-can’t-miss-it, 24/7 phone number on its site, unlimited call times, and gives the self-named Customer Loyalty Team the flexibility to discuss personal topics.
Zappos.com has been a reliable source of outdoor footwear for 20 years, including obscure and new models of climbing shoes. I have seen just-released climbing shoes for sale on Zappos.com before I could even get my hands on a media sample. This healthy stock of shoes and free shipping makes Zappos.com efficient for getting the footwear required for your next outdoor adventure.
But Zappos makes efforts to be more than a profitable retailer, and the company culture seems radically different from Amazon’s. A shining example is a “customer service for anything” line they launched in mid-April, amidst coronavirus lockdowns, in response to a noticeable increase in call times. Zappos responded to the customers’ desires to simply talk about all that was happening.
Just Talk It Out
The Customer Service for Anything link is at the top of the Zappos landing page. The phone number, which goes directly to a human in less than a minute (no phone tree, no pressing of options, and no “our options have recently changed”). The stated functions of this helpline:
“Stuck in the middle of a project? Looking for services that are open in your town? Need someone to help you with research? We’re here to lend an ear and help you make your next step forward.”
About 400 employees have fielded more than 3,000 calls that weren’t related to products. Typical subjects of conversation are sourcing items that are difficult to locate or are sold-out, identifying which local businesses are open, and how to find medical facilities.
People have called about where to find specific grocery items listed in recipes to single parents wanting to talk to other single parents about being quarantined with their children. Teenagers have called to get help with homework, and others have told their life stories.
But it isn’t a counseling service – representatives steer callers with mental health and medical concerns to the correct resources.
Can I really call about anything?
David F. Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation for the Mount Sinai Health System, couldn’t source pulse oximeters in mid-April. This period was when New York City hospitals became inundated with coronavirus patients. To his surprise, Zappos was able to ship 500 oximeters to Mount Sinai in a matter of days, and later donated an additional 50 units.
“It was, like, unbelievable from our perspective,” Putrino told the New York Times.
A recent call involving a Mother’s Day order resulted in a 45-minute chat about mother-daughter relationships and a Las Vegas Brazilian restaurant.
The most extended call on record lasted 10 hours and 51 minutes. That’s 10:51. Almost 11 hours!
So, yes, you can call about anything and take your sweet time.
The new normal?
Brian Kalma, a Zappos employee, used the company’s Holacracy management system, where there are no managers and self-defining of jobs, to suggest the new customer service line.
“We’re seeing signals that this is something we may want to maintain as the world opens,” Kalma told the New York Times.
Other companies are calling the Zappos Customer Service for Anything line, asking for advice on how to improve their customer service programs. So maybe this will become the new normal.