How Zappos created a best-in-class customer and employee experience

If delivering a great customer experience is challenging when you’re face to face, tackling customer concerns over the phone takes things to a whole new level. Any contact center agent will tell you this is no small feat, with long wait times, multiple transfers and a flurry of miscommunication making the experience frustrating on both ends of the line. And it shows. Contact centers have one of the highest turnover rates across all industries, which comes at a huge cost. And the pressures of the pandemic have only made it worse–in lockdown, customers are increasingly stressed, call volumes have skyrocketed and agents are expected to dial up their empathy even more. This begs the question: Must the industry accept high turnover and related disruptions to the customer experience as business as usual? Rob Seifker, Senior Director of Customer Loyalty at Zappos, wouldn’t dare.

Photo of call center employees

Seifker leads one of America’s best customer service organizations and knows what it takes to create a stellar employee experience that positively impacts customers on the other end of the line. Recently, Seifker joined JD Dillon on The 80 Percent Podcast to discuss how Zappos beat the contact center stigma and built a successful customer service organization from the inside out. Here are three key insights Rob shared.

Build a team of confident contact center agents who are engaged, knowledgeable and ready to provide standout customer experiences.  

1. Establish organizational values (but don’t expect them to flourish on their own).

To really shape and guide your culture, core values have to be more than just a page in the employee handbook and a poster in the break room. According to Seifker, core values that aren’t reinforced over time simply won’t stick. Here are some ideas to make sure they do: 

  • Walk in their shoes. Frontline employees often make up the majority of the company workforce, so an important part of building a strong and resilient culture is recognizing and valuing the work they do every day. One of the best ways to instill empathy across the organization is to ensure experienced frontline workers populate every department. At Zappos, every contact center manager is promoted from within the company. Seifker himself started out as a temporary employee answering phones and now directs hundreds of contact center agents.
  • Make room for fun. Try not to get so caught up in output that you neglect the well-being of your employees. Seifker explains: Time is always the enemy of a call center. We try to make sure we hire above what the baseline staffing needs would be, so that we have a little bit of extra bandwidth for cultural things.” 
  • Take it to the top. Culture is everyone’s responsibility, but to be best-in-class, you may have to reimagine the way work is done within your industry. To make these kinds of strategic changes you need the right level of investment, which means buy-in has to be ingrained firmly at the leadership level.

2. Your team doesn’t always have to stick to the script.

Design the contact center role to deliver on your own unique vision of a customer experience, rather than satisfying traditional metrics. Focus on hiring great people and giving them the tools and freedom to do their jobs effectively. It doesn’t benefit you to hire someone then restrict their performance. In fact, it can lead to unhappiness and costly turnover. 

Because they appreciate the connection between the agent role and their brand vision, Zappos enables their frontline to deliver a great experience while still coloring within the lines. For example, they don’t require agents to get off the phone after a certain amount of time–it’s more important for them to connect with the customer and provide a positive experience.

3. Leverage continuous training as a tool to build company culture.

At Zappos, every new employee goes through the same training whether they’re headed to the contact center or the engineering department. Right off the bat, every employee gets a sense of the company’s focus on customer experience and they all speak with customers directly. And learning doesn’t end when onboarding is complete—continued training and communication are built into the daily workflow to make sure agents are always prepared for what comes next. This commitment to continuous learning helps managers focus on the most important parts of their roles–making sure employees feel comfortable, safe and confident to navigate new challenges on the job.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating an exceptional employee experience. For Zappos, it takes an ongoing blend of unique and meaningful mindsets, values and tactics tweaked and perfected over time. Regardless of your approach, one thing is always true: the customer and employee experiences are deeply connected and investing in your employees will have a significant impact on your bottom line. 

To hear more insights from Zappos on everything from corporate values and hiring practices to workplace training and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, check out Rob’s entire chat with JD on The 80 Percent podcast. 

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