More About the Zappos Service Apology Story: Escalating the Rhetoric/Escalating the Relationship/Escalating Total Customer Value

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Ms X, a VIP customer of Zappos, seems to have fallen into data management cracks in their ordering system. She, apparently, was never informed about the benefits of using Zappos’ VIP ordering site. Though Zappos initially informed her that the desired boots would not be available due to quality issues, and offered both an apology and a gift certificate, per her note, which follows, this communication breakdown – not informing Ms X that she had special status – caused some annoyance, which Zappos quickly addressed:

“Dear Meg

If you look in your customer database you will see that I ordered a pair of boots. When I did not receive them as quickly as I had received orders in the past from Zappos, I sent you an inquiry. At that time I received a response advising me that the boots I ordered would not be sent because they did not meet your standards. I did receive a $15 gift as an apology. I immediately went back on your site and ordered another pair of boots. After inquiring about your next day delivery, which I had received in the past because you acknowledge me as a VIP customer, I was then advised that I did not place my order on the appropriate website. How can that be when I signed in to place my order?

I am not pleased…I don’t like having to send multiple emails when in the past your order system was quick and easy. What’s happened?

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

~Ms X’

Zappos wrote back:

“Hello and good day Ms X!

Thank you for contacting Zappos. My name is Meg and I will do my very best to assist you as quickly as possible.

Well Ms X, you are a VIP customer with us, which we think is awesome and want to thank you for, but to utilize all of the amazing benefits of being a VIP, which includes the free one business day shipping, you must place your orders from our VIP exclusive website. That website is below for your convenience.

http://vip.zappos.com/

Since your order was not placed on that site, we could only guarantee the standard 2 business day shipping. Additionally, we do have a 1PM PST cutoff time to guarantee same-day shipping. Your order is currently scheduled for delivery no later than Wednesday.

I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused, but to receive your orders more quickly in the future, just be sure to place them on the VIP site before 1PM PST! Either way, we are always here to help you out however we can!

I hope I was able to cover everything for you today. If there is ever anything else we can help you with, please let us know. We’re here 24/7, so there is always someone here who is more than happy to help you!

Thanks again from your hopefully helpful, Steward of Service… Meg
Customer Loyalty Representative
Zappos Customer Loyalty Team”

Zappos followed-up their second service apology note with an additional $25 coupon. Ms X now figures that, if there are further ordering or site-related glitches, she may be offered partial ownership in the company.

What’s instructive here, and is useful customer-centric learning for any company, is that the entire value-building and proactive communication opportunity began with how Zappos’ employees followed a process for addressing, and turning around, what would otherwise have remained a negative customer transactional experience: http://www.customerthink.com/blog/how_zappos_apologizes_maintaining_the_relationship_plus_creatively_and_proactively_creating_cus That said, customers need to be periodically reminded about their status as an element of relationship continuity, so they can either leverage it, as in this instance, or improve it. Given potentially negative transactional situations like Ms X’s, there’s value for both the company and the customer in doing so.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.

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