If the Culture Fits


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In the humorous commercials from California’s Milk Advisory Board, viewers are told that “great cheese comes from happy cows.” Whether or not cheerful bovines offer up the best cheddar may be up for debate—but it clearly illustrates that keeping employees happy is essential to creating a successful brand and increasing customer loyalty.

For Zappos, the no-longer-just-shoes online retailer founded in 1999 and recently acquired for $850 million by Amazon, getting the right employees—and keeping them happy—is integral to the company’s success.

Without a formal loyalty program, Zappos differentiates its brand through superior—some might even say fanatical—devotion to customer service, a philosophy known as “Powered by Service.”

And customers certainly have been buying more from Zappos in the decade since its launch: over 11 million people have purchased shoes or other products, including over 4 million in 2009. But perhaps the most telling statistic is how many of those buyers are repeat customers: 75 percent.

New employees at their Las Vegas headquarters undergo Zappos boot camp—a five-week training process that includes two weeks in a classroom learning about Zappos’ history and core values. Next, new hires of every level and destined for any position within the company spend quality time servicing customers by phone as call center representatives. Finally, they head to the company’s Louisville, Kentucky, distribution center to pick, pack and ship orders to customers. This screens out those who won’t offer good customer service.

Then there is the offer of cold, hard cash—if you quit. While it might seem contradictory to reward employees for leaving, the cost of a bad hire is so expensive that the handouts are worth every penny.

The bottom line is that getting the culture right will make everything else fall into place in terms of improving customer service and loyalty.

Delivering that happiness comes right back around to the company’s core value of keeping its employees content. Remaining true to that vision includes keeping the company’s business highly transparent and giving employees control over their present and future.

For instance, the company now has 400-500 employees on Twitter, including CEO Tony Hsieh, who boasts over 1 million followers. Zappos believes keeping employees focused on their own personal career visions is an important path to worker satisfaction.


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