A few times in the past, I’ve written about the deep and long-lasting positive impact of Tony Hsieh on the world of customer service and the profound, inextricable link between employee happiness and customer happiness.
Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, seemed to approach his work from a sincere desire to make the world a better place by creating a sense of community wherever he went.
Such lofty sounding goals.
But they were goals he proved largely achievable, not just at Zappos, but with so many of his ventures. His 2010 book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, shared a roadmap, of sorts, for others to follow. In it, Hsieh, who was always an entrepreneur at heart, shares the story of the goals he set for his very first business, an earthworm farm he launched at age 9: “To be the number 1 worm seller in the world.” After that business quickly failed (his inventory escaped their homemade cage), he proceeded, undeterred, to launch other businesses. Zappos was, perhaps, his most famously profitable company but it was far from his only success.
Tony Hsieh died on November 27, 2020, just after Thanksgiving. The Wall Street Journal recently paid tribute to him, pointing to 5 ways he has left a long-lasting influence on customer service and how we value customer relationships. You can read their article, below.
You don’t have to agree with every one of his business strategies to admire and by inspired by his legacy. Tony Hsieh was a visionary who never stopped reaching, experimenting, and learning. After all, trying to make the world a better place isn’t too lofty a goal.
Five Customer-Service Lessons From the Late Tony Hsieh
The former chief executive of Zappos, the online shoe retailer, had a unique approach toward customers
Tony Hsieh, the former chief executive of Zappos.com Inc., helped build the online shoe retailer with a model of customer service that rested on a simple premise: Make every customer as happy as possible, even at the expense of sales—in the short term.
Mr. Hsieh died Friday at the age of 46 from injuries sustained in a house fire Nov. 18 in New London, Conn.
After his death, entrepreneurs, marketers and others said his insights had influenced them to adopt similar practices or change the way they approach customers.
Put the Service First
Mr. Hsieh saw the Zappos product as a service, not something physical, observers said.
He focused on building repeat customers and word-of-mouth marketing, said Wendy Johansson, global vice president of experience at digital agency Publicis Sapient, part of Publicis Groupe SA . “This shifted the brand-driven retail industry from a traditional measure of eyeballs on advertising campaigns, to one focused on a better digital ecosystem around the product engagement of the retail brand,” Mr. Johansson said.
Don’t Hide the Phone Number
One way that Mr. Hsieh tried to accumulate those loyal customers was to make Zappos reachable— more so than many other e-commerce companies. Most visibly, he put the company’s customer service phone number at the top of every page on the website.
“Our belief is the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there,” Mr. Hsieh said during a talk at Alphabet Inc.’s Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in 2010. “You have the customer’s undivided attention for five to ten minutes and what we found is if we get the interaction right, that’s something customers remember for a very long time.”
Recognize a Bigger Role for Customer Service
Many companies treat customer service as a siloed function removed from core brand-building activities. But Zappos viewed customer service through a branding lens, Mr. Hsieh wrote in a piece for the Harvard Business Review in 2010.
Unlike traditional call centers, Zappos doesn’t measure call time or require customer service agents to read from scripts. If Zappos is out of stock in a customer’s size, agents are trained to look for shoes on competitor websites and direct customers there. Customer service at Zappos became an effort to build a relationship with customers and leave them with a good impression of the brand.
Viewing customer service through that lens can help companies keep customers for the rest of their lives, said Sandro Roco, the founder and chief executive of Gantry Brands LLC who counts Mr. Hsieh as an influence.
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