I've become enamored with Zappos! lately, and I haven't even ordered a pair of shoes from them yet. My business crush is partly due to their slogan Powered By Service ... partly to knowing that if I order one pair or six, I can return one pair or all six, and pay no shipping ... and it's also becasue I know if I need to talk to someone - to a real human - they have a toll-free, 24/7 customer service number proudly trumpeted on the Zappos.com homepage. And they actually want to talk to you. CEO Tony Hsieh tells blogger/author Sarah Lacy in a Tech Ticker video at SarahLacy.com that phone time with customers is "one of the best branding opportunities out there", and that he'd rather put resources into the customer experience than traditional marketing, because it breeds word of mouth and repeat purchasing. Not rocket science, but not many are doing it, or doing it very well.
Shocking stuff, this business about investing time and treasure in creating the best possible customer experience, which in turn creates Passionate Consumers that become evangelists for your brand - and most importantly - repeat customers who have pushed your 9 year old business past the billion dollar annual sales mark. Repeat fans like this one spotlighted on Zappos.com's customer testimonial page:
Zappos - you are UNBELIEVABLE!!! I already thought you were the best, but this is cooler than cool. Thank you so much. I will not just recommend you to everyone I know, I will shout it from the rooftops! Cheryl M.
Zappos jumped on my rooftop radar screen when I began checking into brands that were utilizing Twitter. Hsieh, in addition to his love for the old fashioned phone conversation, is a Twitter-holic and evangelist, using and promoting the micro-blogging site as a way to connect with consumers and employees on an intimate and transparent level. He has more than 4500 people following him so far, and according to a Twitter page at Zappos.com, there are 325 Zappos employees using Twitter (they're ranked according to number of followers, with CEO Tony at the top of the follow chain).
The video interview on Lacy's website took place during an 'open bar' that Zappos held at a San Fransisco location. Hsieh sent out a 'flash invite' to Zappos fans in the area via Twitter, and hundreds showed up. The event, in addition to being an experiment, was an example of Hsieh embracing his core values (#1 Deliver WoW through service #3 Create fun and a little weirdness).
I bumped into him on Twitter when he sent me a brief Tweet after noticing a Zappos-related blurb I tossed into the Twittersphere. One of the great things about Twitter is the ability to track conversations around your brand - around any search term actually - so Hsieh can monitor everything and anything tweeted about Zappos. Anyway, I asked him if he'd be gracious enough to answer a short list of questions for a blog spotlight. He agreed, and I though it appropriate to use Twitter instead of the more traditional e-mail route. So here are my five brief questions and his brief answers (per Twitter's 140 character rule):
- (Q): When did U realize that Twitter is a great way to connect w/ consumers & employees? 4560 followers, 325 employees Tweeting so far .... (Answer): realized a year ago it was great to connect w/ my friends. idea for connecting w/ employees and customers came about 2 months ago
- (Q): U actively promote Twitter on website & at presentations. Do U see it as the best social media channel to tap 'consumer passion'? .... (Answer): i think there are a lot of different channels and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. telephone is great as well!
- (Q): Name 1 or 2 businesses (other than Zappos!) that you think offer excellent customer service ... (Answer): in-n-out burger
- (Q): Name 1 or 2 favorite people/blogs U follow. Seth Godin’s a fav of mine. He talks a lot about exceeding expectations ... (Answer): i've read a lot of seth godin's books, but there aren't really any blogs that i read regularly... most of the interesting links i find out through twitter
- (Q): I love Open Innovation. Have U considered a Consumer Idea/Suggestion Portal to connect w/ Zappos fanatics? ... (Answer): already getting ideas from zappos fans via twitter and it's been working great! no formal portal planned though at this time
Aside from his love for In-n-Out Burger and nod to the phone as a great way to connect with customers, it's obvious Hsieh is hook, line and sinkered on Twitter. In the past two months, since he began to lead Zappos and its employee army into Twitterland, he's established Zappos as the undisputed brand leader on Twitter. Jet Blue and Southwest and Apple and H&R Block and others are on Twitter too. But I think Hsieh is blazing the brand trail that other businesses will follow.
I checked out a slideshow presentation Hsieh used in a keynote at the Surf Summit (SIMA: Surf Industry Manufacturing Association) in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The presentation was titled Building a Brand That Matters, and in addition to highlighing the explosive growth of Zappos, a committment to 'Wowing each and every customer', the value of repeat customes and word of mouth, free shipping both ways, 24/7 customer service and a 365 day return policy (you can return a pair of shoes a year from date of purchase, for any reason) ... Hsieh spent several minutes at the end of the talk - and apparently does this at the end of each keynote - promoting Twitter, and inviting people to follow him on it.
I think this is a brilliant strategy. Hsieh is marching into Twitterland, employee and customer armies in tow, planting flags along the way. Other businesses will follow. And they'll discover what Hsieh knows today - six months from now - that you can build a huge and fanatical consumer channel that's built around permission marketing and conversational branding. Suggestion to other businesses: spend some time at Zappos.com. Discover the quirky culture, the fun blogs, pictures and videos ... the obsessive desire to serve the customer ... and the unmistakable presence of Twitter everywhere. And if you haven't put a social media strategy (that's customer centric) in place, you should start today.