Zappos talks the talk

As you’ve probably heard, Zappos was recently acquired by Amazon. Prior to this announcement, Zappos had already made quite a name for itself, consistently being featured in well-known publications (from Fortune and Entrepreneur to Inc.,
just to name a few) for its outstanding culture and focus on the customer experience.

How will the Amazon acquisition affect what has made Zappos so successful?
If Zappos Ceo Tony Hsieh’s e-mail to employees is any indication, it won’t change
a thing. The CEO e-mail is a huge employee communication touchpoint, one that can
easily be strategic, compelling, and effective or fall flat, hurt the work culture,
and diminish employee engagement.

What makes Tony Hsieh’s e-mail so great? Well there are a few things I will call out
1. He gets right to the point. Employees are probably wondering/worrying about what
the Amazon deal will mean to them and their current job. One of the first things Mr.
Hsieh writes in the e-mail is, “We plan to continue to run Zappos the way we have
always run Zappos.”

2. He documents the benefits to the company and employees, first in a concise bulleted
list, and more extensively later in the email.

3. He anticipates and addresses employee’s questions, such as “Will I still have a
job?”; “Will the Zappos culture change?”; and whether or not the leadership will remain
the same.

4. He ties the decision and reasons behind it back to their core values and emphasizes
that the employees are the true driver of the brand and work culture.

This is just a summary of what makes the e-mail successful. If you are interested
in reading more, the full text can be found here:

Tony Hsieh understands what it takes to build a strong culture, and it’s no surprise
that Zappos has been so successful.

If your company was going through a similar change tomorrow, how would you communicate
to your employees?

Man In the White Jumpsuit

I was speaking to an audience of business leaders a few weeks back
and one of the leaders asked me a great question, the gentleman asked:

“What is the greatest “branded” experience you’ve ever had?”

I thought for a second and then almost broke into tears of joy in describing the experience
I had with the “man in the white jumpsuit”…

look like you might need some assistance. May I help you get to your next Disney adventure?”
the man asked as he approached
us. Naturally, my
wife and I obliged.” Your daughters would love the Beauty and the Beast Show that
in 45 minutes. I would suggest
one of you get in line for that now. Also, in about five minutes, Mickey Mouse will
be coming out 30 feet behind me. Why don’t one of you take the kids there and then
meet up at the Beauty and the Beast Show line? That way, your kids won’t need to wait
very long for either attraction.” He completed the experience by providing precise
directions and a map on how to get to the Beauty and the Beast entrance.

What is truly amazing to me about this experience is that Disney
recognizes that their maintenance workers are major frontline customer touchpoints.
Therefore, they should be trained and equipped with the capabilities, skills, and
knowledge to be social coordinators. They also realize that positive experiences will
be communicated by happy customers to potential new customers. While this man was
dressed and accessorized for cleaning the park, he was equipped with way more than
a broom and dust pan. Not only was he friendly, professional, and knowledgeable of
daily attractions, he knew quite a bit about avoiding long lines.

Don’t think for one second this gentleman showed up for work his first day understanding
how to deliver a flawless customer experience as a maintenance worker. He was enrolled
in the Disney culture/brand and trained on behaviors that demonstrate everyone in
the company, regardless of title, role, etc., is responsible for delivering a memorable
customer experience.

Is your company a theme-park where you make “dreams come true”? Probably not… but,
like Disney, you should be fanatic about designing and delivering memorable customer
experiences no matter what industry you work in.

What does it look like in your business to orchestrate and deliver meaningful experiences
that delight your customers? Give it more than lip-service and philosophical nods
of importance, and get to work designing your customer experience.

Is Your Service Meaningless?

Recently I was checking in to a hotel and was greeted by the front desk receptionist. She was wearing a button with bright red letters that read, “Service 10.” This caught my attention and I immediately asked her what “Service 10” was all about.
Unfortunately, for the receptionist, here’s how our conversation went:

Me: What is “Service 10”?
Receptionist: (Blank stare)
Me: Certainly it must mean something?
Receptionist: (Looks over to manager at next terminal and asks, “What is 10 Service?
Can you help me explain it?”)
Me: Never mind.

Now, this was not a random motel on the interstate. It was a high-end hotel chain
that any leader in corporate America would know about—a chain selling rooms for more
than $150 per night. Later that day, I found a sign in the lobby telling customers
that “Service 10” was the company’s goal to provide great customer service. Considering
that the main point of contact for checking in a guest didn’t even know the definition
of great service, I knew that my stay probably wouldn’t deliver an experience worthy
of rave reviews.

This is a great example of why some companies have employees who are consistently
poor at delivering customer service, while others seem to be able to “outbehave” the
competition, leading to stronger business results. Winning organizations understand
that employees are constantly onstage, exhibiting behaviors as part of their performance
and orchestrating the memorable experiences that help attract and retain business.

Leadership Power: Purchase and Influence

Given my line of work, I have the pleasure of regularly meeting and
presenting to some of the top business leaders in the world and some of
the truly worst. What’s interesting is that I learn as much from the
best as I do from the worst. The biggest difference I notice between
the best leaders and the worst leaders is the self-awareness of the
purchase and influence power these leaders have. The strong leaders
recognize they play a MAJOR role in infecting culture change and
sustaining the ideal culture throughout their organization. The worst
leaders delegate or completely underestimate culture change and culture

Only leadership has the power to ensure brand and cultural success. There are two
types of power:

1. The power to purchase – Both knowledge and money are required to execute
culture/brand strategy. Leaders are fully aware of the company business plan, its
objectives and strategies. They must know and communicate key strategic information
in order to justify investing in culture-transforming strategy.

2. The power to influence – Executing culture/brand strategy requires focus,
passion, and persistence. Leaders must have the power and persistence to keep fellow
leaders and employees focused on strategy, day in and day out regardless of industry,
product, or service changes. Leaders have the ability to heavily influence their organization
through a strong focus on consistent communication and the demonstration of behavior
in alignment with the organization’s strategy.

Let’s face it: A company cannot successfully implement a culture/brand strategy without
leaders as champions. Leaders have the ultimate power because they understand the
whole package regarding the growth of the company.

Implementing a successful culture/brand is leadership’s responsibility. Leaders need
to check their enormous egos at the door and get it done…it’s their job!

Chris Farley knows something about “guarantees”

was watching one of my favorite movies of all time last night. Perhaps you remember
this gem from Tommy Boy:

Tommy: Let’s
think about this for a sec, Ted, why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm,
very interesting.

Ted Nelson, Customer: Go on, I’m listening.

Tommy: Here’s the way I
see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to feel all warm
and toasty inside.

Ted Nelson, Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.

Tommy: ‘Course it does. Why shouldn’t it? Ya figure you
put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by
and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
[chuckles until he sees that Ted is not laughing too]

Ted Nelson, Customer: [impatiently] What’s your point?

Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn’t
a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy; well, we’re
not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing
you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up. I
seen it a hundred times.
Ted Nelson, Customer: But why do they put a guarantee
on the box?

Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed
piece of sh*t. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a
box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer’s
sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product
from me.
Ted Nelson, Customer: [pause]
Okay, I’ll buy from you.

Tommy: Well, that’s…

Tommy, Richard Hayden: …What?

And in the end, Tommy’s character sells the half million brake pads needed to keep
his family’s company going. Of course in a perfect world all struggling companies
with quality products and good-hearted employees would be able to pull themselves
up with a stroke of luck and some strategic use of road flares as Chris Farley’s character
does in the movie. But that’s not the reality. Point being that unless you can get
your employees to deliver the experiences that customers most want, you’re no better
than a guarantee fairy. Are your employees living up to the promises and guarantees
your company makes?