What can a well-run shoe store teach you about your own online business?
If you’ve ever bought anything from the mega online shoe store Zappos, or if you’ve so much as heard them mentioned, the word that comes to mind is probably service.
But there’s more to the Zappo’s secret sauce than free shipping and some nice people on the phone.
They embody three important lessons that any blogger, online marketer, or small business owner can learn … and start finding customers that don’t just like you, they love you.
Let’s look at each, and how you can apply them to your business.
1. It all starts with passion and purpose
You might think it would be hard to imbue a shoe store with meaning. But Zappos does it.
A lot of companies have a mission statement. Nearly all of them are lame. Instead of another dreary statement about “synergy” and “excellence,” Zappos lives what they call their core values, which include things like “create fun and a little weirdness,” and “be humble.”
It all originates with founder Tony Hsieh’s insatiable curiosity and penchant for doing work he loves.
What Zappos does comes from their culture — and that culture is grounded in those core values. The two cannot be separated.
Without their core values, Zappos is just one of a million e-commerce sites. With them, they become something remarkable.
We have an environment where we empower our employees to do what’s best for the customer with minimal policies and hoops to jump through in order to do it. It’s about giving them a purpose to their job as opposed to just answering questions and taking orders.
~ Maura Sullivan, Senior Manager of Zappos’ Customer Loyalty team
Whether you’re running a company of one or one hundred, you need to have some values beyond “I need to book three new clients this week.”
Integrity and a sense of purpose are highly attractive to customers, and they make your business a lot more enjoyable to run.
2. Everything is customer service
Every action you take — the design of your web site, your content, how you answer email — communicates something to your customer. About serving her. About helping her.
It’s about under-promising and over-delivering.
At Zappos, the customer loyalty team is empowered to regularly go above and beyond to make the customer feel important and special.
This can mean a care package, random freebies thrown in with your order, or anything else they feel like doing.
Again, Sullivan says,
Our employees don’t have to be passionate about shoes, or anything else we sell, but they need to be passionate about service and helping people. That’s where great customer experiences come about — being able to help someone, it can change their day — even if it was just a pair of shoes.
When you bake surprise and delight into your business model, people talk about that. A lot. This is the secret to being a truly remarkable business. Accomplishing the unexpected is the norm.
When you see everything you do as service (and therefore, as marketing), everything you do will become just a little better. And customers will notice.
3. Keeping a lean state of mind
Some web startups are run like the former Soviet Union. Lots of rules. Lots of processes. And not much reward for going outside the lines.
And then there are those Fortune 500 companies that function like family businesses. (Some of them still are.)
The difference is mindset.
Unencumbered by organizational bureaucracy, Zappos’ employees are free to do the work they signed up for. Sure, they’ve got manuals and policies, but those only exist to help employees help customers.
Being this nimble is a choice.
And, admittedly, it can be a challenge at times, especially for a company the size of Zappos.
So how do they do it?
Communication is key, especially when making a change or something that will affect the day to day. In a company that is constantly reinventing and redefining itself, making sure everyone is up to date and on the same page is crucial.
Stay nimble. Stay flexible. And as you reinvent and redefine yourself, communicate with the people who need to know about it — your customers, and your employees if you have them.
You may even want to go the Copyblogger route with your business plan, and start talking to your customers before you have something to sell.
Make sure those lines of communication are open. This is as important on the day you start as the day you sell your business to Amazon for umpty million dollars.
What’s compelling about Zappos is their focus on connection. From the “top” down, it’s all about relationships.
They make sure passion and purpose are the fuel for all the work they do, and they never forget that the business lives or dies on how well they serve the customer.
You can do the same.
How about you?
Is there something you admire about Zappos that you’d like to do more of in your business? Let us know about it in the comments.
About the Author: Jeff Goins is a writer, idea guy, and online marketer. You can connect with him on his blog Goins, Writer or follow him on Twitter @jeffgoins. He is currently working on his first book. To read about his journey from blogger to book author, check out his eBook Every Writer’s Dream: How to Never Pitch Your Writing Again.