By Karen Mathis, Director of Marketing & Sales Operations
I recently listened to an interview with the late Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, that was replayed on National Public Radio (NPR)’s podcast, “How I Built This with Guy Raz.” Tony, who tragically died in a house fire at the age of 46 in November 2020, shared the story about how Zappos started and his initial reluctance to get involved with selling shoes online.
In 1999, Tony was running a venture capital company when Nick Swinmurm, the founder of Zappos, reached out to him to present the opportunity. He almost deleted the voicemail (imagine that!), thinking it was a crazy idea, until Nick left two data points for Tony to think about:
- the size of the shoe industry market
- the fact that the fastest growing channel for shoe sales was mail order catalogs
As we all know, Tony eventually committed to the idea and built a behemoth brand that now sells much more than shoes.
How did he do it? Tony will be remembered most for rewriting the playbook on customer service. He wanted the Zappos brand to be about outstanding service and he built the company around this model. A few things he did to make this happen were to:
- Relocate the business early on to attract the right talent
- Measure call reps not on “handle time” but on quality of the calls
- Provide free shipping to customers both ways. (He was a trailblazer for free shipping, no one was offering it at the time. Imagine shopping without free shipping service now!)
To this day, the company describes itself this way – “Zappos is a service company that just happens to sell all the nifty shoes, clothing, accessories and whatnot found on Zappos.com.”
We do many little things differently on a day-to-day basis that add up to major differences over time. From researching and validating quotes manually (not automated) to eliminate post-sale surprises to reviewing every invoice to ensure 100 percent accuracy. (How much time would you save not chasing credits with your carriers?)
We’ve borrowed a page from Tony’s book and like to think of ourselves as a “service company that just happens to sell internet products.”
And remember, before you delete our voicemail, think about how Tony’s life changed by hearing it through!