Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 4 of 4


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This is the fourth and final part of my interview with Rob Siefker, the Director of the Customer Loyatly Team at Zappos. In this part of the interview, Rob talks about performance reviews, how Zappos encourages employees to further their knowledge (and pays them for doing so), what he thinks about seniority and tenure amongst call center agents, how Zappos handles scheduling, how the company encourages “personal emotional connections,” and finally, what Rob thinks companies can do to deliver Zappos-like service.

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

Service Untitled: So I read somewhere that core values are incorporated into reviews at Zappos? How does that work?
Rob: It pretty much is your review at this point. We don’t really do formalized reviews like most companies do anymore. It’s a little different. We used to do that. We used to have every twice a year, once a year, whatever, HR would email all the leadership teams so all the managers from all the different departments and stuff, and say okay, it’s review time and everybody gets an email of the most up–to–date review form and all that stuff. We used to do that. I don’t think it was very fun for anyone to be honest with you. I don’t think anyone in the company, from the people writing in the reviews to the people getting reviews or whatever, I don’t think anyone really enjoyed it. And so we’re like if that’s the case then what’s you know – I mean there’s the value in having the documentation of performance but if no one really likes it then we should probably find a different way to do it, and so we do it differently now.

You know in the call center we have different ways for our team leads to provide feedback. Let me take one step back real quick. Each department will do it differently now. They do their review. Instead of a one size fits all review form that every department gets, each team needs to provide feedback to their employees on a regular basis but it’s their decision on how that works best for their team. And so for the call center, we have our team leads and we try to keep our teams very small so our goal is to have their team sizes be roughly about 12 people. And it ebbs and flows in the call centers so it’s up and down a little bit from that but that’s our goal. So they have manageable team sizes. They know their employees well. They can listen to phone calls. They know how they’re doing with their service level goals, their attendance, what other types of skill set goals they have. So there’s a lot of feedback that’s given to them on a regular basis.

So we don’t necessarily have a review period. We don’t look at it that way. Constantly you should be having interactions and it should just be a never–ending process of learning and growing and getting better and building relationships and having interactions, and that’s the type of environment we want to promote. And you know you get follow-up emails or documentation from your team lead about meetings and conversations or about specific parts of your performance that you can improve upon and suggestions on how to do so or just recognition for what a great job you’ve been doing in certain areas, and how you’ve been improving in other things. So I mean that stuff is happening all the time and we don’t try to put into a process where you only get the review twice a year or once a year. So we don’t do it that way.

We do on a semi-regular basis do a culture review, we call it culture assessment where the team lead and you can to this whenever you want and we kind of, and in the call center we do it when they switch teams. So we do it around schedule bidding. So if you’re leaving a team, before you leave the team on the major shift, we would have a culture assessment done on that employee and it relates to the ten core values so that’s where all the questions fall in and you basically are providing a value on a 1 to 10 scale of where you think they are performance-wise which shouldn’t be as any surprise to an employee if you’re already communicating with them all the time. The culture assessment is inherently tied to the stuff that they do and their day–to–day job. So there shouldn’t be any surprise ever. And you go over that and you put it in the context of the core values and the way they’re interacting with people. It’s really just another helpful way to kind of have another conversation more than anything.

Service Untitled: So if an employee isn’t furthering their knowledge, will their pay increase or is that something, a mechanism you kind of have to make sure that people are always trying to further their knowledge?
Rob: Well everyone is always to a certain degree furthering their knowledge whether they know it or not I guess. But in terms of pursuing skill sets, some employees don’t want to pursue skill sets after a while. They’ve learned the ones that they want and they just want to answer the phones on a day–to–day basis. And they know that right now we don’t have a program to offer them continual pay increases if they aren’t learning new skill sets that we offer in the job. And that’s okay as long as the job that they’re doing at that time continues to be great and they’re doing well with their customers and they’re doing well with their team. We have some employees that do that. They still continue to do – most of those folks still are ambassadors. They’re still mentors. They still do a great job. And so yeah, it really comes down to what you do day-to-day and day in and day out.

And we have internal up-training and there’s so much you know, things change here all the time so they’re constantly having to absorb information. And we have our pipeline team, which is like a corporate university kind of a program. They teach communication classes and finance classes and cultural related classes. They teach classes that are focused around specific books that share values with things that we try to do here. So it can be very engaging conversation and time to reflect on things like that. So there’s always an opportunity for people to be engaged and learning and growing, even if they’re not trying to pursue learning a skill set that comes with the pay increase.

Service Untitled: So if they take a finance class, that’s obviously for their betterment, not necessarily for pay increase.
Rob: Exactly.

Service Untitled: Because I hear a lot about companies struggling with how to compensate call center employees because a lot of companies believe in compensation according to this stat: if an employee is more senior, knows more, that employee is more valuable than an employee who’s just fresh off the boat and that there’s inherent value in paying that employee more. So every six months or once a year, they get a raise and a lot of people disagree with that.
Rob: You know it’s something that comes up here in conversation as well. There’s no magic bullet, golden gun, whatever you want to call it. I think whatever works best for your culture and your company is what works best for you. And you just have to be confident that what you’re doing is that, is the best. And for us it’s listening and making sure we are doing right by our employees but we want to have something that’s consistent with our culture and for us pursuing growth and learning and contributing to the customer experience and stretching yourself and doing those things is valuable for us, and it’s also a fair and objective way to do it too.

I don’t necessarily and we don’t at Zappos necessarily believe that the most tenured employee is the best employee. They may be but that’s not how we evaluate things. So we don’t think that after every year you should just get a raise. And if we ever did anything that was based on a time frame, there would be very specific goals and measurements involved in evaluating that to say that you were in the top ten percent of people performing in that area or something like that. You should pay people who perform the best and drive that type of behavior.

Service Untitled: I agree. So then an administrative question – all call center employees are hourly, right?
Rob: Not all call center employees are hourly but almost all. The only exception is the supervisor role and members beyond that that have grown in supervisor, manager, senior manager, me. We’re an exempt position at this point. But yeah, everyone else is in an hourly position so they get you know, holiday pay and overtime pay and things like that. And even our team leads who are kind of our junior leaders, that first step into leadership and the department, they’re still on an hourly pay scale. And part of that for them is that we don’t ask them to work outside of the office.

Service Untitled: And then do you guys do 5×8 or 4×10 work weeks?
Rob: Combination. We do a combination of that. The majority of shifts are 5 to 8 and that makes the most sense for the call center in terms of operating at a key efficiency really. But employees ask for 4–10. Some people really end up liking it and others; it’s too long of a day for them so they go back to the 5–8’s. We have enough people who like both. We have a mix of schedules but it’s predominantly 5–8’s.

Service Untitled: Is there anything special you guys do with scheduling or is it a new schedule is posted once a quarter?
Rob: Well yeah. I mean to try to keep it – we have two major shift days a year. One in the late summer, early fall is when it happens and goes into effect. And then we have one end of winter into spring time and those are based off the two major times where call arrival patterns change. The majority of the year, they’re one way and then for the holidays, they’re kind of different in a different way. So that’s why we do the one in the fall to prepare ourselves for the 4th quarter.

Now throughout the year, there are constantly shifts changing. You know people learn new skill sets so they change shifts. So there are openings and there’s – I mean there’s constant movement and when openings come up, people can re–bid if they are paying attention to the new open shifts. And as we hire people, we add in more shifts in different areas. So if we’re hiring people that year and if we hire a lot of people, there could be a lot of new shifts all throughout the year so you could constantly be bidding. But then twice a year, everyone has to re–bid and that’s when we do a full reschedule bid. We could do it more often but it would just be very disruptive and I just don’t think that’s worth it.

Service Untitled: Is seniority or performance or anything like that factor into shift preferences?
Rob: Right now we just done it on seniority. And that’s been the way it’s been for a while and you know it’s interesting. People are very passionate about their shifts and if we change the way we did it, we have to have it very buttoned up and very ironed out to be as fair as possible. And no matter what way we may think about seniority versus performance, they’re still in the call center culture and the team does put a lot of value on tenure and so there are certain ways where you can find to continue to respect that and build it into the program, and that’s where it falls in for us. It’s the only thing I can think of that’s really tenure–based in the call center though.

Service Untitled: So a big thing with Zappos is the personal emotional connection. I think you call it PEC. How do you try and get people to do that? How does that work and size of hiring those people?
Rob: Well I think that’s the key is hiring the right people right from the get–go. You know I mean there’s no one answer there and if you ask all of the leaders in our department, you’d get a couple of different responses but I think the key is we just have a really engaging environment and people are really happy. And when you’re happy, you just are a more engaging person to speak to or interact with. And it comes through in the phone call. And if we had a really depressing and bureaucratic and non–empowering environment, I think those things would come through very quickly in the call center. I think the culture and what we’re constantly trying to do make a big impact.

Service Untitled: Great. So as we wrap up, what are some easy things that you think companies can do to improve their customer service? So if you ran a call center that wasn’t Zappos, what would be some of the first things that you think would be like relatively easy to implement best practices?
Rob: Well I think some companies are really trying to make good efforts to improve their customer service and a lot of people are trying to talk, want to talk to us and they do. And I think that’s a start. I think CEO’s and chief operating officers and the chief marketing officer or whoever, those executives at some companies need to realize the importance of having a very successful call center experience for their customers. That is the way customers interact with a lot of companies.

There are a couple of things I think about with that is a lot of big brands, the only interaction a customer is going to have is through the call center. But unfortunately what those companies have done is they tried to distance themselves as a brand away from the call center experience to a certain degree so it ends up not being consistent and it needs to be. You can’t market to people and try to have them as your customer and consumer is what you say you are doesn’t come through when you actually have an opportunity to interact with them on a human, person–to–person basis. That’s a major fail and it’s completely inconsistent. And to me it only proves that the company is not interested in providing whatever they may say they’re there to provide. They only care about your pocketbook. And as a consumer that’s kind of discouraging.

But there are plenty of companies out there that realize they need to improve. And yeah, you want to be efficient. You can’t be spending money like crazy but it’s such a valuable part of a strategic brand you know, image that you’re trying to create with. It’s an investment. It’s not a cost. It’s an investment and it needs to be a wise investment. You need to manage it properly but it’s so valuable and it shouldn’t be ignored. You can leverage it in very powerful ways. So good luck to everybody you know. I think they should. I think they should make a change. And I think there is a shift I mean. From the time that I started working with Zappos to now, there’s definitely been a shift in the way people think about call centers and the service they want to provide. So something is happening.

Service Untitled: That’s good. Do you have anything that you like to add? As you can probably tell, I focused most on some of the nuts and bolts things. I interviewed Tony a couple years ago and we were very high level, and I had requests for the nitty-gritty. And so I appreciate you putting up with that.
Rob: No, that’s fine. No, I don’t really have anything else to add. Not right now.

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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