Nine Strategies For Building an Exceptional Culture

Recently I experienced yet another customer service issue when I left some clothing in a New York hotel while visiting my family. Although I called within two hours of checking out of the hotel, I was told the clothes couldn’t be found. A few days later, when I spoke with the hotel’s general manager and asked if he spoke with the housekeeper, he said she no longer worked there. “We found she was stealing from our guests,” the manager said. Huh. As the general manager, what would you have done in this situation? This manager quoted the hotel’s corporate policy stating, “We are not responsible for items left in our hotel.” Who wants to hear that? Needless to say, the hotel lost a customer.

Unfortunately a negative customer service experience is more the norm than the exception in many companies. To stand out in the market, you can’t just have good customer service; you must have exceptional customer service. As author Jim Collins says, “Good is the enemy of great”. Studies show that the corporate culture of the organization has a lot to do with what kind of service your customers will receive.

This article highlights Zappos, a company with one of the best corporate cultures in the world. I hope you gain some ideas on enriching your corporate culture from the practices of Zappos.

Zappos is an online shoe retailer whose one mission is to provide the best customer service possible. They call this their “Wow” philosophy, and it goes beyond the customer Zappos has been recognized as having one of the best corporate cultures in the world. Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, believes if you get the culture right, most other stuff like delivering great customer service, will happen naturally on its own. In less than ten years, the company has grown from no sales to $1 billion in gross sales. The number one driver of that growth has been through repeat customers and word of mouth. So what can you learn from a company that pays salaries below market rate? How do they create such an exceptional culture?

Here are a few of the things that make the Zappos culture unique:

Management makes sure everyone understands the vision of having Zappos be synonymous with the very best customer service. The company has ten core values that all employees know and believe. This is not just rhetoric. Videos of employees bringing the core values to life can be found on YouTube, and Zappos even published a Culture Book that has over 450 pages of employee ideas about the culture.

They go above and beyond. For example, if a customer is looking for a specific shoe, and it is out of stock at Zappos, the employee searches competitor sites and directs the customer to the competitor. They lose the sale, but gain customer loyalty.

Zappos hires for cultural fit. When interviewing, they look for people who are passionate about customer service, not necessarily about shoes. Hsieh himself admits to only owning ten pairs of shoes. Zappos doesn’t hire on skills alone.

Employees use social media to build relationships with co-workers and employees. Over 400 Zappos employees are on Twitter, and the company encourages it to build customer and co-worker relationships. Most employee posts are not even about the business.

They practice what they preach. “Create Fun and a Little Weirdness” and “Deliver Wow Service” are just two of the ten core values. Zappos has fired employees who don’t practice the core values, even if they are doing their job function. In fact, the core values are 50% of the performance evaluation.


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