Betting $100 on the Zappos culture to deliver a great service experience


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At an executive breakfast event in Chicago last week, I was speaking about social media and sharing a few examples of companies I admire. I gave Zappos as an example of a customer-centric company that really worked hard to delight its customers when they called or connected on social networks.

I asked the audience if there were any Zappos customers, and the majority raised their hands. Then I asked if anyone had ever had a bad experience with Zappos, and a marketing executive said he wasn’t happy about Zappos ads following him around online after he visited the site.

Without really thinking about it, I promised him that if he called Zappos to discuss the issue, he’d be happy with the way they responded. To show I was really serious, I wagered $100 and gave him my business card.

Here’s what happened, according to the email he sent to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh:

I attended a power breakfast at the Ritz Carlton last week hosted by CustomerThink CEO Bob Thompson. He asked the audience if anyone had a bad customer experience with Zappos and I was the only person in the audience who raised their hand. Truth be told, I have never been a customer and this was the explanation I gave Bob and the audience. About a year ago, I was looking for a pair of Pumas online and searched your site. For weeks afterward, Zappos ads followed me around to nearly every site I visited, which kind of creeped me out. Creepier still, all the ads displayed Pumas exclusively. I qualified my statement with the fact that all my female friends rave about their customer experience with Zappos. In the end, I was reticent about visiting your site again and purchased my Pumas from a DSW retail store here in Chicago.

Bob then handed me his business card and told everyone he would send me $100 if I contacted customer service and wasn’t satisfied with the experience. Well, it doesn’t appear that I will be collecting any money from Bob, copied here. Anita, my rep today was empathetic, ebullient and an all around cheerful person. She also gave me your email address (amazing!), took mine and said she’d look into this matter and get back to me. I can’t ask for more than that. Never once did I feel rushed, which is rare in a call center environment.

I think I shall have to read your new book. Suppose I can find it on Amazon?

I’m not a gambling man. When I go to Las Vegas, I never put so much as 25 cents in a slot machine, play Blackjack or anything else. But I wagered $100 on Zappos customer service. Why?

Because when I visited Zappos HQ (in late 2009), I saw first hand that the culture really is different. The vast majority of Zappos revenue (98% or more, if memory serves) goes online, but when someone does call for help on an order or to deal with a problem, Zappos wants the service experience to be fantastic.

And it’s not just a slogan for the annual report. Zappos invests in systems, for sure. But the real secret is their culture and the people they hire. A bit quirky (piercings and tattoos are plentiful), but all sharing a passion for serving customers.

Zappos doesn’t call their call center staff “agents” or “service reps” or such. Instead, they are Customer Loyalty Representatives. Sure they want to be efficient, but the key measurement is customer satisfaction, not average handle time or some other efficiency metric.

In my view, Zappos does a brilliant job of putting it all together. Great people backed by strong systems and processes, and driven by a culture that is passionate about delivering great customer experiences. All thanks to Tony Hsieh’s leadership.

That’s why I wagered $100 without any concern. In my mind, it was a sure thing!


  1. Bob –

    I covered Zappos pretty extensively in my new book, The Customer Advocate and The Customer Saboteur. They are an outstanding example of putting the customer at the heart of the organization, and delivering optimal value and touch experiences on a consistent, institutional level.

    In addition, I’ve seen Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, present last year at a NYAMA event at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in NYC and have also watched a number of podcasts where he was featured. Though low-key, his explanation of Zappos’ mantra of “Delivering Happiness” (also the title of his book), was impressive from both a cultural and business results perspective.

    Your $100 bet was absolutely safe!!


  2. Hi Bob
    Excellent story – thanks for sharing it.

    If you study the great religions (before they became rituals adminstered by politicians) and then you study Zappos culture you are likely to come to the conclusion that Zappos culture is ‘religion’ in the best sense.

    All those who are touched by this religion are uplifted. Feel great about working in it, interacting with it, being served by it etc. To put it bluntly Zappos is creating a better world, the kind of world that we want to be a part of, and as such uplifts us.

    Religion does not come out of a competitive analysis aka Porter. Religion is deeply personal – it comes out of core values deeply held. People are willing to sacrifice themselves (I include you in the $100 bet) for religion but not for a business strategy.

    Finally, thanks for sharing.


  3. I was copied on an email back to the man who emailed Tony Hsieh. The response was from someone his staff helping respond to 2,000 emails per day. Wow!

    I’m not going to copy the content here because the email was not intended for public distribution. But let’s just say it was personal, friendly and customized to the specific situation. Not a cold corporate style form letter.

    The staffer also pitched the Zappos Insight subscription service and extended an invitation to take a Zappos tour near Las Vegas.

    Think about it — 2,000 emails per day = 2,000 opportunities to impress and re-enforce their brand reputation. Maybe more CEOs should encourage customers to write them directly. Does yours?


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