Whatever happened to customer service? Everybody pays lip service to it, but very few actually deliver it. More and more often, when you go to a company’s website looking for a phone number, you will be disappointed to find there isn’t one. Apparently, they don’t want to talk to their customers. Instead, they provide a little email form that you can complete with the promise that they will respond promptly. Of course, they don’t respond promptly. In fact, they often don’t respond at all. Contrast that with the experience you get when you call Zappos (*), the online retailer. When it comes to customer service, Zappos is generally ranked right up there at the top with companies like Nordstrom and Ritz Carlton Hotels. Unlike some other online retailers, Zappos does want to talk to its customers . . . as often as possible. So to achieve the level of customer contact it wants, Zappos maintains a full service, 24/7, inbound call center, but it’s very unique in the way it operates. Even if you don’t run a call center but would like the telephone traffic you do have to be more effective and customer-friendly, you can take a few tips from Zappos. To learn what makes the Zappos call center different from others, and to learn how Zappos uses it to cement a commitment to customer service, please continue reading below.
“We really view each (telephone call) as an opportunity to build the Zappos brand.” ~Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO
There are a number of things that separate the Zappos call center from other call center operations:
- Call center employees don’t work from scripts and they don’t upsell. The company recognizes that each caller is unique and deserves a genuine, person-to-person conversation, not a canned, one-size-fits-all script. “We trust our employees to use their best judgment when dealing with each and every customer,” says CEO Tony Hsieh. “We want our reps to let their true personalities shine during each phone call so that they can develop a personal emotional connection with the customer.”
- Calls are not timed. At many call centers, employees are evaluated according to how many calls they can “clear” within a specified period of time. Not at Zappos. Employees there are instructed to take as much time as they need to give the caller a positive, WOW experience. They work with one simple imperative: no matter how long it takes, whatever question a caller has, make sure it’s fully and completely answered, and whatever problem the caller has, make sure it’s solved. Zappos doesn’t even care if the question answered or the problem solved results in a sale. It’s all about delivering a great customer experience.
- Call centers are not an expense to be minimized. Look at each call as an investment in your customer service brand. At Zappos, the strategy is to build the brand through word-of-mouth and through the repeat business from a loyal customer base. To achieve that, rather than pouring a lot of money into traditional advertising mediums, they pour that same amount of money into their various customer service initiatives (such as their call center).
You may not have or need a call center like Zappos, but maybe you do have a help desk or technical support function or dispatch activities that depend on telephone communication. Or maybe you have “internal customers” who are in the field, such as sales people or technicians, who need to call in periodically for whatever support they need. Or maybe you’re a virtual company with no “land lines” at all and with cell phone-toting employees scattered around the country. In all of those cases, telephone traffic, both inbound and outbound, is connecting your company to its employees, customers, and suppliers.
In the Zappos world, each of those calls represents an opportunity to build or strengthen a relationship. Following a call from an employee, does that employee feel a stronger bond with the company? Following a call from a customer, does that customer feel so well-served that he or she wouldn’t even think about going to a competitor? Following a call from a vendor, would that vendor do whatever it takes to help us when we need it?
Telephones have been with us for over 100 years, and even though the telephones of today are mobile computing devices, they still connect people in a personal way that texting and email and voicemail cannot match. According to Tony Hsieh, “As unsexy and low-tech as it may sound, our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there.” We should do whatever we can to leverage the personal touch those branding devices allow us to deliver. What would it look like if everyone in your company was treating every telephone conversation as an opportunity to strengthen your brand as a good place to work and a good place to do business?
(*) Zappos achieved $1 billion in annual gross merchandise sales in under 10 years, was named one of the “Best Companies to Work For” by Fortune magazine in 2009 (and would continue to make regular appearances on that list), and in that same year, was purchased by Amazon in a deal valued at $1.2 billion. However, it continues to. be run under its own brand, with its own culture, and its own unique way of doing business.