Our Visit To Zappos – 40 Lessons Learned… And Shared


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Wow! It’s not very often I’m speechless, but after visiting the amazing business that is Zappos, I was lost for words… for a few minutes anyway! I’ve read about them, I’ve blogged about them, and I’ve spoken about them at conferences and seminars, but to ‘experience’ them was unforgettable! We visited their Las Vegas HQ on Friday and were completely blown away by their approach to doing business, and it’s all about (surprise, surprise!)….. Culture!

I have never met a business that so demonstrated 3D Characteristic #5: Create An UBER Culture (there’s more info here), and boy, have they done that! How? Well here goes with just some of the things we picked up after our memorable personal tour by Ryo who completely ‘walked the talk’, as did Jen who very kindly picked us up from our hotel and took us to Zappos HQ.

So, where to start? Well’ here are 40 short ‘take aways’ from our visit using the 4 ingredients of UBER Culture as a framework…

#1: Everyone Understands what’s expected of them and behaves accordingly and consistently 

1. The 10 Zappos values are there for all to see, but it’s not just about putting posters up like many businesses do – they are discussed, lived and demonstrated in everything they do. They include…

  • ‘Deliver ‘Wow’ through service’
  • ‘Create fun and a little weirdness’
  • ‘Be adventurous, creative and open-minded’ 
  • ‘Build open and honest relationships with communication’
  • ‘Do more with less’

2. It took them a year to shape and develop them, and although they were originally put forward by CEO Tony Hsieh, he invited and encouraged lots of discussion and feedback until they were ‘right’!

3. They demonstrate their ‘way of doing things around here’ in everything they do – decorate your desk as you see fit and wear what you like, and bring your dog if you wish! It’s a very relaxed place and to demonstrate that, if you arrive for a job interview in suit and tie, they cut your tie off at reception!!!! If you don’t like that, you’re probably NOT a Zappos type!

4. In week 3 of your induction, you do a Values Project which involves you researching and demonstrating to your peers what the values (or a particular value) means to you and the business.

5. You also go on a ‘scavenger hunt’ where you find things out about the business, its values and its people and you are actively encouraged to engage and connect with people.

#2: Systems and Processes are Built to support and reinforce the behaviours you want 

6. The Zappos recruitment process has 2 strands – one for technical competence and one for ‘culture fit’ carried out by HR. If you pass the technical one, but not the culture one, you’re not hired – Culture fit over-rides technical fit EVERY TIME!

7. The 4 week induction is very much focused on developing understanding of the values and embedding them into peoples’ ‘way of doing things around here’. After 3 weeks, they offer you a month’s salary if it’s not for you to allow you to be comfortable in your ongoing job search!

8. All the wires and cables for computers and office equipment are suspended from the ceiling rather than fixed in the floor which allows super flexibility and supports the ability to move things around easily – there’s a lot of ‘moving things around’ at Zappos as teams grow and develop.  (Zappos Value: Embrace and drive change)

9. You and your teammates choose your salary! There’s a budget that you have to work within and that’s it! (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

10. The vending machines for things like drinks and snacks are on alternate floors so you have to travel to get to them and therefore more likely to meet someone from a different team or department (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

11. They have a team of ‘Fun-gineers’ whose full time job it is to bring joy and smiles to Zappos’s employees, and they organise all sorts of parties, competitions, music events and even the world’s largest water fight, that engage, entertain and bring people together (Zappos Value: Create fun and a little weirdness)

12. The ‘Fun-gineers’ set up ‘cinemas’ and encourage people to watch a film in the communal area (feel free to bring your computer and ‘work’ – you CAN be productive while enjoying yourself – especially if it’s with colleagues from other departments.  (Zappos Value: ‘Create fun and a little weirdness’ and ‘Build open and honest relationships with communication’)

13. On one HUMP Day (Wednesday for those that don’t know), real camels were brought in and all were encouraged to have rides around the communal space! (Zappos Value: Create fun and a little weirdness)

14. They contribute massively to the local community and encourage their people to do the same. For example, they hold Thanksgiving Day parties for locals, open their offices for school proms where they bring in make up artists, photographers and outfitters for local schools, and special events for The Salvation Army and homeless people that provide food, drink, showers and of course, shoes (Zappos Value: Be humble)

15. Their HR processes consistently reinforce the behaviours and everyone is regularly reviewed against them working in line with, and promoting them, rather than just ‘performance targets’. (Zappos Value: Embrace and drive change)

16. Formal and structured ‘disciplinaries’ are carried out on ‘Behavioural issues’ when required

17. All products purchased by customers can be returned at any time in the next 365 days and if you buy them on February 29th, you get 4 years to return them! (Zappos Value: Deliver ‘wow’ through service’)

18. When you call Zappos, there is an ‘option’ to press 5 to listen to a joke’! Apparently, 13% of customers actually do this!  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’ and ‘Create fun and a little weirdness’)

19. Employees can (and do) ‘wow’ each other – for example you can post a ‘wish’ for someone on the internal network, and colleagues responded. For Ryo, this was a new bed when he’d just moved into his flat in Las Vegas! (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

20. The budget for ‘team building activities’ is about $50 per person per month and the team decides how it will be spent. Ryo explained that his team saved theirs up for a few months so they could all go out for dinner at Gordon Ramsey’s Hells Kitchen in Las Vegas. Another team saved up all year and went to Disneyland! (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

#3: People are Engaged, empowered and enabled to live those behaviours 

21. From the day you ‘graduate’ your induction, and yes, there’s a ceremony for that, that you can invite your family and friends to, through to having very no ‘bosses’, everyone is actively engaged in delivering fantastic customer experiences. 

22. Staff have full empowerment to do the right thing without permission from a ‘boss’  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’)

23. The aim is to train staff so they don’t have to pass a customer on to someone else.  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’ and ‘Pursue growth  and learning’)

24. They also have a great CRM system, affectionately known as the WMS system, which stands for ‘Where’s My Shit?’ and that has all their customer’s personal details and notes about personal circumstances and conversations.  (Zappos Value: ‘Do more with less’)

25. A key thing that is encouraged is delivering a PEC – that’s a ‘Personal Emotional Connection’ with your customer, and staff are encouraged and trained to build personal relationships and do all they can to help a customer – Ryo told us a great story of how he once sent a water bowl and some doggie treats to a customer’s dog who was barking in the background during the call.  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’ and ‘Build open and honest relationships with communication’)

26. There’s a simple rule: Stay on the phone until the customer puts the phone down. The record length of call apparently, is 13 hours!!!  (Zappos Value: ‘Be passionate and determined’)

27. There are definitely ‘NO SCRIPTS’.  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’)

28. Zappos team members are also allowed (empowered and enabled) to make ‘wise decisions’ to ‘delight’ the customer like up grading to next day delivery, providing replacement goods without question and offering money back when it’s deemed appropriate (by the team member!). One lady returned some boots and explained that they’d been for father who had then passed away before they arrived – she was told that she didn’t have to pay.  (Zappos Value: ‘Deliver WOW through service’ and ‘Build open and honest relationships with communication’)

29. The call centre is usually ‘over staffed’ – the time, money and resource they invest in the customer experience, they see very much as their marketing budget.  (Zappos Value: ‘Do more with less’ (honestly, think about it!))

30. Paid paternity leave is 6 weeks, maternity is 20, and there’s a concierge service that helps you get things like your cleaning, car servicing, teeth and even a balloon ordering service if you’re having a celebration! The view is if you look after your people, they’ll deliver!  (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

31. There are also gyms, TV lounges to watch movies, relaxation areas (with fish!) and a wonderful (subsidised and free) cafe for all staff to use. (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

#4: People are Rewarded and recognised for living those behaviours 

32. Co-workers can bonus colleagues $50 through the reward and recognition programme (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

33. They recognise those who ‘commit’ to the business. You are ‘formally’ presented with your blue ‘Name Plate’ once you are a ‘full time employee (it looks like a registration plate) and other ‘presentations’ come on different anniversaries.

34. Zollars is the internal Zappos currency that can be spent on all sorts of things that can used to ‘wow’ colleagues who’ve done something special. (Zappos Value: ‘Embrace and drive change’)

35. There are lots of ways of rewarding and recognising people who ‘contribute’ to the culture. For example, from promoting people who work in the canteen into the core business (if that’s what they want to do of course!) to giving a young member of the team, Miguel Hernandez, who is an artist a chance to decorate parts of Zappos HQ and ‘pushing him’ into other businesses including Disney to fulfill his dream and become a ‘professional artist’(Zappos Value: ‘Pursue growth and learning’)

36. People are scored on ‘making friends outside their department’ (Zappos Value: ‘Build a positive team and family spirit’)

37. Staff are rewarded for exceptional customer service, especially when great feedback has come from customers

38. Being a role model in living the values means you have more chance of being promoted.      

39. It also goes beyond the workplace – Ryo was once approached ‘Downtown’ by a stranger asking for directions and he helped him by going above and beyond. It turned out that the guy was a friend of Tony Hsieh and he told him what  a great job Ryo had done. A couple of days later, a ‘formal’ meeting that Ryo was in was rudely interrupted by a troupe singing and dancing and presented him with Beyonce tickets (his absolute favourite!!!) (Zappos Value: ‘Be passionate and determined’)

And finally…

40. This stuff works…. Living these values clearly ‘drives’ performance in the areas that are ‘traditionally’ counted.  Last year’s reported revenues were in excess of $3 billion and 80% of customers come back for more!

Apparently, the owner Amazon are very happy with the profits it generates (Part of the deal when they bought it was that they couldn’t ‘interfere’ with the culture), but the emphasis is very much on do this great stuff for your people who will do great stuff for their customers and the results will come.

As Tony Hsieh says “Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI on hugging you mom’?

To find out a bit more about UBER Culture and to see how your business measures up using our simple assessment tool, simply click on the image to download it!

Finally, thanks so much to Ryo and the Zappos team – You being ‘Passionate and Determined’ meant we were ‘Completely ‘WOW’ed’!  You certainly ‘Created some fun and a little weirdness’, and you definitely ‘Built an open and honest relationships with communication’, by being ‘humble’ with it.  Finally, thanks for being so  ‘Adventurous, creative and open – minded’ in your approach, and ‘Building an honest relationship with communication’.That will allow us to ‘Pursue growth and learning’ for both us and our clients, which hopefully means we’ll be able to ‘Do more with less’! and finally, we now definitely feel part of a ‘Positive team and part of your family spirit’!

Phew, I’ve got my words back!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Andy Hanselman
Hi there! I help businesses and their people create competitive advantage by 'Thinking in 3D'! That means being 'Dramatically and Demonstrably Different'! I research, speak about, write about and work with businesses to help them maximise their sales and marketing, their customer service and their customer relationships.


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