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Building the Culture of a Modern BPO in the Shadow of Zappos

December 18, 2020
Author: Yoni Epstein
The founder of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, passed away in tragic circumstances recently at the far-too-early age of 46. Hsieh built Zappos into a phenomenal business that Amazon bought in 2009 for $1.2 billion, but he stayed on as CEO until his retirement just three months ago. Tony Hsieh is known by everyone involved in any form of customer experience design or management because he reinvented the industry. His simple philosophy was that happy and engaged employees will result in happier customers and one of the best ways to create this is just to trust your employees - trust them to do the right thing. The examples of how Zappos employees did this are legendary, but here are some of my own favorites:
  • A caller in 2012 called to talk about living in Las Vegas. 10 hours and 29 minutes later the call finished with a purchase of a single pair of Ugg boots. The agent never tried to get the customer off the line.
  • A customer that needed to return a pair of shoes hadn’t organized the return because her mother had just died. When Zappos called and learned why the shoes had not been returned they sent a courier direct to the customer’s home to collect them - with condolence flowers.
  • Tony Hsieh had been out late with clients and they were back at their hotel after the restaurant had closed - they were hungry. Tony asked his client to call Zappos, even though they don’t sell food. The client called and asked for advice - before long the Zappos agent had sent details of three late-night pizza places nearby.
What Tony Hsieh achieved was to cut through the normal silos and organizational spaghetti that most large companies resemble. He simplified operations and work flows and used a culture of enthusiasm, loyalty, and commitment to ensure that whenever a customer threw a problem at a member of the Zappos team, they resolved it. I really like the Zappos focus on simplicity and looking after employees. In customer service, you can’t have a room full of dissatisfied employees all watching the clock and waiting for the end of their shift. If all they care about is clocking off then the customers are not going to be enjoying the experience - that’s obvious. There are three attributes that I have built into the itel culture that I believe are very similar to the philosophy of Tony Hsieh and Zappos:
  • Fast decision-making: we make decisions quickly, but also transparently. I’m always happy to justify my own decisions to anyone in our team. Building a culture of trust and honesty from the top level down destroys “office politics” and negativity.
  • Accessibility: anyone can access anyone else in our organization. It doesn’t matter about your rank, position, or whether you are officially on the same account team - if you think that someone’s voice or ideas can help a customer then everyone has permission to reach out.
  • Empowerment: everyone has a voice and anyone can contribute their ideas. We don’t need to see ideas communicated up and down hierarchies, just get them out there in the open and see who agrees.
Every organization is different, but any organization can be improved by embracing these values and studying how Zappos redefined the idea of employee engagement and collaboration. Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness, is a great place to start. When everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction - without the executive team needing to direct them - that’s an extremely powerful and positive place to be. Let me know what you think about the simplicity of the Zappos approach to business and how it can be applied across other organizations - such as your own? Get in touch via my LinkedIn. CC Photo by wocintechchat
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