Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 3 of 4


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This is the second of a four part interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks more about the service metrics that Zappos tracks, how the company empowers its Customer Loyalty Team Members (and has avoided bureaucracy), how escalations to managers work at the company, how the Zappos compensates its employees, and the extensive continuing education programs employees have access to at Zappos and how they work.

You can read part one of the interview here and part two here. To read this part, click “read more.”

Service Untitled: Interesting. Do you have something equivalent to personal service level stats or email employees or live chat since it’s kind of a different way to track it than phones?
Rob: I mean we’re mostly looking at their production of how many emails they’re responding to over a course of an extended period of time. We don’t look at it as like today they only did this many but this day, they did that many because some days you just get a mix of emails that are very different. But they have to have an expectation of doing on average, a certain number of emails an hour. And we have some people that are just very prolific with doing emails and others that are not but there is an expectation and they have to meet it.

Service Untitled: And something similar for chat probably?
Rob: Yeah. Chat is more like the phone. Now it’s easier with the phones because the phones that are on the hardware have specific statuses that you utilize to do all of the measurements. And so it’s slightly different for live chat but it’s basic in terms of the way we monitor it. But it’s roughly the same thing. We’re looking at production and we’re looking at people’s efficient use of time and making sure they’re customer–facing. And I think that’s the key thing for us is that people are customer–facing. It’s not necessarily how much time they’re spending there per interaction. Well some person may take ten calls an hour, another person may take six but they’re both on the phone the same amount of time and that may just be the average of how it works out because some people are just a little chattier than others and that’s fine. And it’s the same thing with live chat. There’s subtle differences in individuals.

Service Untitled: So empowerment is obviously critical to customer service. How do you empower customer loyalty to your members?
Rob: I mean that’s pretty easy. We don’t restrict their decision making. If they have something that they need to get to done for a customer, they don’t have hoops to jump through to make a decision. They make the decision and if there’s something they need help with, we’ll provide them help but we’re not going to stop them from making the decision and we want to make sure that people feel comfortable making the decisions without second–guessing themselves. Do what’s in the best interest of the customer. You know if you do something and you’re unsure about it but you wanted to take care of the customer, maybe talk it over with your team lead afterwards but don’t slow down the process of providing the best service you can to the customer. So I mean we don’t have like a bunch of system restrictions that they can’t do x you know. They can’t upgrade the shipping or they can’t upgrade the customer into a VIP or the can’t refund the customer for something that was a service issue or they – they can do whatever they need to. They can make whatever request they need for UPS to get a package delivered to a different address or have something picked up from a house. I mean every type of situation where we could possibly be interacting with the customer, we take the barriers away from them being able to do their job and provide as much of a trusting environment as possible.

Service Untitled: So by doing that, have you guys kind of avoided the bureaucracy that tends to occur if companies get bigger?
Rob: I mean yeah I would say so. I mean when you put a bunch of people together, there’s always going to be a little bit of people stuff you know with just relationships and stuff but I mean in general, it’s such a flat organization in terms of the way we interact with each other. And we’re not control freaks you know.

I’ve always thought about it this way. If you don’t trust your employees, then you’re not hiring the right people. And so we have to trust them. We have to put that in their hand and we want to you know – I go more on the whole thing of you know trust someone until they proved themselves that they can’t be trusted and then just to put them in an environment where you immediately, it restrict them from being themselves. So we just work in a different way I guess.

Service Untitled: How does Zappos handle escalations to managers? If someone calls up and they’re really angry and they demand to talk to a manager, how do you guys handle that? Is it like every other call handles it or do you do it differently?
Rob: I don’t know how other call centers handle it really. I mean it depends. The first thing that we would want to do is first find out before you transfer it to the managers, well who the person is and what their issue is so that you can – you might be able to resolve it and they don’t know that. I would be really interested in knowing the data on this but sometimes we have people who call and demand a manager or supervisor because they don’t think that the person they’re going to get on the phone can help them. You know their experience I guess in other places is that what they want can’t be done by the first person that answers the phone. It’s different here so sometimes it happens when someone demands a manager or supervisor, they quickly find out, “Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought.” Some are escalated and sometimes it’s our own fault and so if they really want to speak with a manager, we’ll absolutely get them on the phone with the supervisor or manager as quickly as we can and have it resolved. I guess I kind of don’t know what else there would be to say about that one. I mean what do other call centers do that make it – do they make it complicated? I don’t know.

Service Untitled: Some call centers work pretty hard to escalate calls
Rob: Then what does the manager do? I mean that’s one of your functions of your job.

Service Untitled: Exactly.
Rob: The thing is we’re all accessible. Our CEO’s email is readily available. We all have the same mission. We’re here to provide the best possible customer experience and if they need to speak with somebody who they believe is more relevant to their problem, then we owe them that.

Service Untitled: I think that’s fair. So how do you compensate employees for going above and beyond? Obviously people want to be happy at work but they also have bills to pay and extra money helps that. What are some things that agents can do to earn additional money?
Rob: Well I touched on it earlier. The only program we have in place for earning more money in our department is by learning new skills and pursuing different opportunities that we constantly are promoting to be available for them. And we have rotations so that these skill set jobs is never stagnant, it’s never the same group constantly. There may be slower periods of churn within those groups as we have people learn those skills but there’s plenty of opportunity for them to go out and earn more pay and we do our very best to promote those opportunities and coach new employees when they get in so that they can be able to take advantage of those opportunities and learn those skills and then also as a side benefit, you get further training, more skills, and you also get paid more.

So that’s how we do it. And this is kind of around the company like we don’t have like a bonus program. We don’t have you know, at least in the call center, we don’t have like sales goals or you know stuff like that. We don’t have commissions or anything like that. We looked at other things, but I would rather discuss what we have than things that we don’t have.

Service Untitled: That makes sense. So what are some of the training opportunities like? Is one, for example, learn how to do email support? Learn how to do live chat? Or is that smaller than that or bigger than that?
Rob: It’s both. It’s all of the above. It could be smaller than that. Email and live chat are two of them. And each one depending on the length of the rotation and the skills required and the difficulty of the job are paid differently. So some are a little bit more difficult and you get paid more for learning that skill and excelling at it. So it varies from team to team.

We have like mentoring which is when new employees come in and they go to their four–week new hire training process. They come in to the call center and they sit with employees and listen to phone calls, and they have a mentor who helps them out, who takes the calls and then talks about it and gives them a little training. So that’s another one – it’s kind of a very soft skill, people–to–people training thing that they do not very frequently. It’s fairly infrequently so that’s a pretty popular one for people when they’re brand new. They want to pass on learning.

And we have an ambassador program. It’s another one which is pretty popular because it’s interacting with new employees. It’s kind of like a big brother–big sister kind of a thing. New employees get assigned to a veteran employee and they give them tours of the office to introduce them to more people in the call center and they help them with the studying for some of the test and quizzes that they go through when they’re new employees, and help just kind of talking them through questions that maybe they might have been nervous to ask someone else or whatever may be the case. But just to introduce a new friend and a new connection in the call center. So that’s another one.

And then they just run all over in little areas. And you know for the most part, the concentration of these different skills and functions obviously are built around business needs of what we’re trying to do to accomplish with our customers and to provide them the best service. And that changes too over time. So we’ve had new ones. Like right now we have, our live chat one has been a hugely popular skill set to learn recently. We have almost 70 people on the team and two years ago, we didn’t have a full time team. So it’s created a huge amount of opportunity for people to learn something new and that team so far has no signs of stopping growing. So it’s going to be growing at the same time people are rotating through and learning it. So it will end up being able to provide a lot of experiences for people. And who knows what the next one will be.

Service Untitled: So if I was a phone person and I got live chat training, I can do live chat for maybe a month or two and then go back to phones? Or you want to stay in live chat or whatever I want to do?
Rob: You would stay in live chat for longer than that. The minimum rotation for a team like live chat would be roughly four months and it usually would be a little longer – especially when we’re growing a team like that, we can’t rotate people out as quickly because if we rotate people out and say, “This is the day you have to rotate out,” we may not yet have somebody who’s ready to take over. And so it’s a balancing act of all of that movement because we have to have a specific number of people working the job to meet customer demand. We don’t want rotations to mess up the customer demands part.

So it’s kind of an art and science at the same time of that piece. And it’s different for a growing team. Like for other groups, we have a team that handles all of the customers that call through on the mobile phone number so they’re on a mobile app and they call a phone number that gets routed to people that have specialized training and handling confusion on the mobile app or whatever may be the case that the customer is calling about. It could be about a shirt. But that team is very small. And so if we were doing something on that team, we would probably hire a new person in, make sure they have the training and then one person, when the person that was rotating off would rotate off afterwards. So that’s an example of how it would work there. For the live chat team, it would be a little different than that.

Service Untitled: And so if someone does something like mentoring, does that result in an hourly pay boost or is that a one–time bonus after it’s completed? How does that work?
Rob: The whole skill set progression program is all an hourly pay increase so they all have whether it be from 25 cents on up to 75 cents maybe for certain skill sets that they could earn an hour, a per hour pay increase. And now, one of the things that goes with that is they could be asked at any time to actually come back and do the job in a time of need and they will be asked to share knowledge and answer questions and be a further presence of sharing that information wherever they go after that. So they’re an advocate for that skill set wherever they go, and they can use that in many different ways, and we find that very valuable to mix the workforce like that. It shares a lot of knowledge and it helps people provide better service experiences by continuing to circulate that knowledge and information.

Service Untitled: And it also makes itself, if someone is out sick on live chat, you can take someone who knows about it that might be on the phones and help out.
Rob: Absolutely. If we need to do that, we absolutely will do that. And they’d be happy to do it. They know that and they would love to help out. It’s great to be able to have that option available.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Douglas Hanna
Douglas Hanna is the CEO of A Small Orange, a high-end web hosting company that prides itself on quality customer service. In addition to his role at A Small Orange, Douglas founded and writes for Service Untitled, a popular blog on customer service and the customer service experience.


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