Staffing Management

Sharing ‘Insights’ on Happiness

By Ed Frauenheim

Sep. 25, 2009

Zappos’ budding effort to share its management gospel is slated to continue despite Amazon’s planned takeover of the eclectic, fast-growing retailer.

    In December, Zappos began an experimental program designed to broadcast its wisdom about customers, employees and company culture. The program, called Zappos Insights, centers on a Web site with articles, video interviews with Zappos’ leaders and a discussion forum. The online retailer also offers visits to its Henderson, Nevada, headquarters for an up-close look at the firm’s offbeat, service-obsessed, employee-friendly approach.

Amazon’s pending acquisition of shoe specialist Zappos will not interrupt the program, says Aaron Magness, who is the firm’s director of brand marketing and business development and oversees Zappos Insights. “Our business will continue to run as is,” Magness says.

Amazon has promised to let Zappos remain independent, with the current management team staying in place. Amid growing requests for tours and time with Zappos leaders, the firm came up with the Insights initiative. A subscription to the online program, where members also can submit questions to Zappos, costs $39.95 a month. Among the most popular articles on the site are items on Zappos’ core values, its call center training and how Zappos balances mind and body while embracing technology.

But, as Magness notes, some people find it hard to believe that what sounds like a dot-com holdover can be a high-performance culture. “It’s difficult to trust our answers,” he says.

For those wanting firsthand proof combined with leadership training, Zappos has begun to hold Zappos Insights Live events. In July, 22 participants spent two days at the Las Vegas-area headquarters, paying $5,000 per person. They got to spend time with Zappos executives, observe quirky features such as the room where employees can sit on a throne while chatting with a life coach, and listen in as customer service representatives fielded calls without scripts.

“We’re not really trying to position ourselves as management gurus,” Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says. “Not everything we do is going to make sense for their company. It’s really just about sharing what we do and they take away whatever they want to take away.”

Even so, Zappos is on a mission to prove that employee happiness can be the foundation for making customers, management and owners happy. “We want to make business better,” Magness says. “It starts with employees.”

Count Scott Martineau among the convinced. Martineau, co-founder of Phoenix-area software firm Infusionsoft, attended the Zappos event in July. There, he sat in on a customer service rep’s call with a woman complaining she had received the wrong purse. The Zappos rep agreed to overnight a new bag, with a note to the fulfillment department to double-check that it was the right one. What’s more, the rep included a $25 gift certificate and promised to have the returned item hand-inspected to make sure it was properly labeled and to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again. “I saw her ‘own’ that customer as an entrepreneur would,” Martineau says of the rep.

To Martineau, Zappos’ focus on exceptional service, candor and authenticity is the wave of the future.

“I think it’s a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says.

Workforce Management, September 14, 2009, p. 22Subscribe Now!

Ed Frauenheim is a former Associate Editorial Director at Human Capital Media and currently works as Senior Director of Content at Great Place to Work. He is a co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

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