Winning Customers Through Effective Call Center Management at Zappos

Contributor:  Maura Sullivan and Rob Siefker
Posted:  06/30/2009  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Editor's Note: This article was first run on Call Center IQ on 5/12/2009.

Before we were hired at the call center at Zappos.com, Rob and I have never worked in any other call center. We were hired at Zappos within months of each other to help answer customer calls in the call center in San Francisco. At that time the call center had maybe 20 or 30 people. Not too long after we started, the company announced that it was moving to Las Vegas, NV.

That was five years ago. Now we live in Las Vegas and help run the Zappos.com call center, which has close to 400 team members.

Zappos' mission is to Live and Deliver Wow to all its customers and employees. We want to provide world-class service, and the entire company is on board to help succeed in that mission—not just the call center.

The Zappos' Call Center Culture

It’s about culture—culture is our brand. We don’t want to be your typical call center. Sure, there are the business aspects, but our philosophy is all about good service. We don’t have a call center just because we have to—we want to provide first-rate customer service. Zappos embraces the job being done in the call center.

When Rob and I first started at the Zappos call center, there was definitely that small, dotcom family-like feel. We didn’t wear suits to work, we had fun and we knew that we wanted to make our customers happy. As the company grew, we wanted to keep these principles alive while also adding some structure to help us be successful leaders. We needed to make sure that we hired people for the call center with similar passions for the customer experience.

Our call center culture starts with Zappos Core Values. We have 10 Core Values, and every person in the company has to step up and exemplify them in their actions and words. For the first six to seven years at Zappos we had a really strong corporate culture, but nothing was documented that spoke to the shared values we all believed in. People worked hard, and we had a really fun and open work environment that fostered healthy relationships and very good professional partnerships between departments.

The 10 Zappos Core Values:

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

Zappos wanted people that would fit into our culture, not just do the job. Once we wrote down our 10 Core Values we were able to use them as a basis for all the decisions we made. The Core Values are an integral part of the Zappos hiring process. We also base 50 percent of everyone’s annual review on the Zappos Core Values. These things have assisted us in managing our culture and in turn made us a much stronger company because of it.

When the Core Values were published they put into writing what we all already knew, but it helped us better communicate the shared beliefs to our newer employees. Maintaining our corporate culture is an important part of Zappos. We don’t just talk about culture and values; we actively manage our teams in line with these values.

Zappos Call Center and Improved Customer Satisfaction

While we do have a lot of fun at the Zappos call center, we have to work hard for what we have, and with a growing environment we’ve had to be open to change and face challenges. We have what we refer to as the three Cs. At our call center they are always at the top of our list, and will forever be at the top of our list.

The threee Cs emphasized at Zappos' call center are Communication, Consistency and Culture. We’ve grown so much, so fast, that these three things are essential to our success. Many times the three Cs are not exclusive of each other and can be found in everything we do. In order for us to be trusted leaders we need to utilize the three Cs in order to gain buy-in from Zappos call center team members. Consistent communication within our call centers can only strengthen the Zappos culture.

Many of the ideas at Zappos come from group collaboration. With our large, fast growth it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of a large call center. So one day in a meeting the three Cs just appeared and we set out to make them a part of our language. There was no structured process or procedure for getting them implemented—we just did it. We set up e-mail distribution lists (ex: communication@zappos.com, consistency@zappos.com, culture@zappos.com) and assigned supervisors to manage them.

We then put those e-mail handles out to the whole call center and used them for feedback. We made sure we followed up with all ideas so team members knew they were being listened to. We use Zappos core values to help make decisions that lead to customer satisfaction. Sometimes decisions don’t turn out how we want, but we learn from them and move on.

Increasing Call Center Front-line Engagement and Customer Engagement in a Downturn Economy

At our call center we’ve created an environment that is positive and ever changing to keep people engaged about their job—it’s more about having a career here and not just earning a paycheck.

It’s ultimately up to the Zappos team member to decide what they want to do here, and we’re here to help them succeed. We in turn get a better-skilled call center workforce and more engaged employees. They are a part of helping Zappos get to the next level and they know that.

It’s not up to our CEO or management to keep up the culture—it’s everybody’s responsibility.

First published on Call Center IQ.

Maura Sullivan and Rob Siefker Contributor:   Maura Sullivan and Rob Siefker


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