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Secrets from the Outside

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Looking to step up your customer service game? Just ask a company that prides itself on the subject. Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, is widely known for its customer service focus, being featured in publications like Forbes and Harvard Business Review for its customer-centric attitude. The company even has a team dedicated to it.

Rob Siefker is senior director of the customer loyalty team at Zappos, and has worked at the company for more than 16 years with a focus on service. In fact, he started off as just the 10th person in the customer service call center, answering phones and talking directly with the brand’s customers.

Leaning on his years of experience, he sat down with Ratchet+Wrench to share the company’s best-kept secrets and its unique approach to customer service.


Secret No. 1: Starting with Customer Service

While Siefker says Zappos is more laid back when it comes to protocols, training its employees is anything but. Every employee goes through up to six weeks of extensive training and onboarding—three to four weeks of classroom training and two weeks of on-the-job training. And whether you are a customer service representative, the director of marketing, or even the CEO, every single employee starts out in the call center just like Siefker did.

“Training might not be the best word,” he says. “It’s really about building relationships with employees and learning how to be comfortable with communicating with people.”

That way, customer service is truly ingrained in the company’s culture and every employee is a part of it.


Zappos’ 10 Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Secret No. 2: Taking Ownership

First thing’s first when addressing a situation over the phone: Whatever the problem may be, take ownership of the issue, even if it wasn’t the company’s fault. Siefker says many complaints stem from shipping issues.

“A third-party takes care of shipping, but we still have to own the problem,” he says.

When companies do this, customers respect them a lot more. It’s just like when an employee is caught making a mistake--the employer is more likely to respect them if they own up to the problem.


Secret No. 3: Going Above and Beyond

After taking ownership of an issue, ensure that the problem will be 110 percent solved, no matter the lengths it will take. If a customer received the wrong order and won’t get their new order in time for a trip, ship the order to the hotel at which they’re staying.

A customer once complained about an order and just so happened to be leaving for a trip to Las Vegas—Zappos’ home base—the next day. To help ease the issue, Siefker personally dropped off a gift card at the front desk of the customer’s hotel so that person could shop around for a few things while on their trip. Siefker says you don’t want to have the customer fight to solve the problem that they sought you out to fix. You want to show that you truly care about their issue and will go above and beyond to ensure their happiness.


Secret No. 4: Provide Fast Service Without Rushing

It’s all about convenience nowadays; customers contact a company because they have a problem, and they want fast, reliable service that answers their questions and solves the problem. Siefker says every call center is going to have a target of how fast it wants to answer the phone. For Zappos, the center tries to answer 80 percent of phone calls in less than 20 seconds. Siefker says while call center staffers can’t guarantee to perfectly hit that goal every day, the majority of the time they do, often exceeding it. This not only helps customers get fast service, but helps Zappos determine just how many people need to be staffed to avoid wait times.

Most call centers also encourage quick calls and manage employees’ call times. For Zappos, it’s the exact opposite: The company celebrates long calls. Employees are urged to build a personal and emotional connection with customers, talking to customers as if they were a friend or family member.


Secret No. 5: Employees Make Decisions

Lots of big corporations have customer service lines for questions and concerns. Their biggest problem, though? Long, never-ending wait times. Zappos, on the other, challenges the status quo.

“We ask, ‘Why would someone need to put a customer on hold?’” Siefker says.

Often,  customers are on hold due to representatives not knowing the answer to a question, or needing permission to solve a problem. Zappos’s solution? Give staffers the necessary tools to answer tough questions and make decisions. No, there’s not a written handbook with options A, B, and C on how to solve a specific problem. Instead, Zappos gives all of the power to the employee. Following a customer complaint, if he or she wants to give a customer a free pair of shoes—which can be a lot to do, depending on the situation—and the staffer feels that it is the right thing to do to solve the issue, they are free to make that decision on their own, with no repercussions.

“We don’t micromanage the moment so much,” Siefker says. “We empower employees in the moment to make those decisions for the customers.”

When employees are equipped with the right tools, they’ll know exactly how to solve a problem going in. This way, employees will be calm and can interact with customers on a personal level.

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