Summary: The Zappos Experience By Joseph Michelli
Summary: The Zappos Experience By Joseph Michelli

Summary: The Zappos Experience By Joseph Michelli

PRINCIPLE #1 Serve a Perfect Fit

Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. —HENRY FORD

Let’s assume you have a job opening. Your final decision comes down to a choice between two equally qualified candidates; both applicants present well and have impressive work histories in addition to glowing references. How do you decide which will be the better fit for your organization? Just as customers seek an ideal fit from your products or services (in the case of Zappos, maybe a pair of shoes or a jacket), you must seek staff members who suit your culture. As you will soon see, one of the key elements in Zappos success has been its leadership’s uncanny ability to bring together a team of like-minded employees who are dedicated to common goals and objectives. Zappos has, in essence, made a priority of ways to “serve a perfect fit” between its purpose and its people.

By “serving a perfect fit,” we’re referring to the importance of identifying your core values and selecting individuals who share those values. The principle also entails the use of your company values to inform your business decisions and to defend your culture against internal and external threats. Few businesses define culture, communicate values, or serve a better culture fit than Zappos.

  • Many corporate values are present in the actions of the early leaders of a business; others emerge in response to what customers value.
  • Values are both explicitly stated and implicitly present in action.
  • Explicit values can be codified or simply articulated by the leadership.
  • As social units mature, capturing values in written form is essential to alignment and growth.
  • Values creation should not be relegated to a “special few.”
  • The more you involve people in giving input, the less you have to sell them on the product of that input.
  • Define your core values now or refresh your already defined values.
  • Measure your values against the CRUD test.
  • Let applicants know about your values before they can find your job postings.
  • Create interview questions that get at the applicant’s core values.
  • Build multiple levels of values screening.
  • Assess applicants in both formal and casual settings.
  • Maximize the number of people who can give input on applicant selection.


PRINCIPLE #2 Make It Effortlessly Swift

The more effort customers must put forth in a service interaction, the less likely they are to be loyal. —JEFFREY HENNING

Zappos selects and orients for a service culture. The leadership at Zappos views culture strength as the foundation for employee engagement and, ultimately, for customer loyalty. Zappos leaders understand that a cohesive culture and a highly involved workforce contribute to a wide range of robust business outcomes. In fact, research consistently demonstrates the connection between employee engagement and productivity, employee retention, improved safety, and overall business profitability. By building a tight employee community, Zappos has developed a platform for outstanding service. But correlations between workforce engagement and customer loyalty are nothing more than, well, correlations. What else must be added to the mix to ensure high-quality service delivery?

  • Service excellence often comes down to the velocity of service delivery and the knowledge level of staff members.
  • Service velocity is important not only in the product delivery process but across every consumer contact point and every channel of contact with a customer.
  • While most customers will notice only when service components such as accuracy, ease, or speed are absent, some will consciously test you on those dimensions.
  • Customers most often complain about a lack of knowledgeable service staff, which often results in their having to repeatedly seek fulfillment of their needs.
  • Learning organizations practice disciplined support of training, irrespective of economic factors that may negatively affect the business.
  • Effective service recovery often produces stronger relationships with customers than the business would have enjoyed had it not made a mistake in the first place.
  • Leadership plays a significant role in setting a tone for issues such as urgency and service recovery.
  • Service leaders innovate policies and processes that exceed industry standards.
  • As you set higher service standards, you must accept the challenge of elevated expectations. The fruits of business success exist on those higher branches of excellence.


PRINCIPLE #3 Step into the Personal

The companies that survive longest are the ones that work out what they uniquely can give to the world—not just growth or money but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call those things a soul. —CHARLES HANDY

While brands can rely on operational excellence in service delivery to garner respect and differentiate themselves from less effective competitors, legendary and beloved companies seek personal, enriched experiences that are easily remembered and readily shared with others.

Zappos openly and consistently provide feedback that helps staff members deliver personalized service to customers, vendors, and even non-customers. Author Scott Johnson once said, “Caring is a powerful business advantage.” So let’s get personal with Zappos and understand the advantage the company enjoys through the personal care and connections created by Zapponians.

  • Increasingly, business leaders need to think about service experiences that forge lifelong customer relationships.
  • Legendary service brands typically have defining service stories that become part of corporate lore.
  • In addition to the defining service stories, which tend to be epic in nature, legendary brands weave small acts of service excellence into experiences.
  • Great service brands overtly create or happen upon a Way We Serve Statement that informs staff members how customers are to feel while they are being served.
  • Success in developing engaging customer experiences comes from staff members who are clear on the desired tangible and emotional outcomes for customers.
  • Before business policies are implemented, leaders should consider their possible impact on the emotional connection with customers.
  • Forgoing sales to serve the true needs of customers pays off for everyone in the end.
  • Your customers are craving random acts of kindness and signs of generosity rather than indications of greed.
  • In extraordinary service organizations, all employees understand that they are in an emotional outcome and relationship business.
  • Well-selected and well-trained staff members can deliver wow service at minimal cost to the organization.



If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes. —ANDREW CARNEGIE

Maybe the nimble spirit at Zappos reflects the iconoclastic nature of its leadership or the personality of a CEO who was an entrepreneur in grade school. Possibly the unsettled nature of Zappos is the result of naysayers constantly telling its leaders that they couldn’t possibly succeed. In any case, the rapid evolution of Zappos is emblematic of what businesses can achieve by being discontented, knowledge seeking, and unwilling to fall in love with the way things are or the way things have always been.

  • Great leaders are discontented, knowledge seeking, and unwilling to fall in love with the way things are or the way things have always been.
  • Rather than focusing on problems with workforce readiness, create solutions to achieve workforce success.
  • Evaluate the breadth of your training curriculum in the areas of knowledge, leadership training, and personal and professional development.
  • No matter how large or small a business is, its leaders must determine what it takes to ensure the business would run smoothly if its top leadership were depleted.
  • Progression planning involves an understanding of the skills, knowledge, activities, and behaviors needed to move forward in an organization.
  • Training can be as simple as defining the knowledge needed in your organization, finding and modifying existing resources, and engaging in discussions and action plans based on those resources.
  • People are less motivated by compensation and more motivated by recognition, a genuine interest in their aspirations, and meaningful work.
  • Think work/life integration, not work/life balance.
  • Goal setting and goal accomplishment lead to a sense of self-efficacy that translates into personal and professional benefits.
  • Great leaders help their people stretch and make a longrange commitment to growth and learning


PRINCIPLE #5 Play to Win

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation. … He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both. —JAMES MICHENER

Play is a powerful tool for alignment and social cohesion. Unfortunately, many business leaders haven’t accepted that premise. If asked, many managers would answer that the opposite of black is white and the opposite of work is play. At Zappos, however, leaders see work and play as being intertwined.

Zappos infuses a spirit of play on daily, monthly, and extended timelines throughout the workplace. It places the concept of “play” or “fun” into a broader context of staff pleasure and social bonding.

  • Individuals who have fun on the job tend to be more creative and productive.
  • Workplace fun can be conceptualized as short-, medium-, and long-term employee pleasure.
  • People who are having an enjoyable time on the job tend to have more positive relationships with their peers, make better decisions, are tardy or absent less often, and use fewer sick days.
  • Innovation emerges from casual contact between diverse work groups.
  • Brief bursts of workplace fun can be an inexpensive, energizing force that increases team alignment, solidarity, and productivity.
  • Social motivation is a powerful performance incentive. Allowing team members to choose rewards that may include acts of leadership silliness often produces impressive results.
  • Opportunities exist for creating recognition programs in which staff members acknowledge wow moments delivered to one another.
  • Play and fun can be infused into, and are often most needed for, routine tasks such as evacuation drills.
  • Employees find workplace happiness when they are allowed to do what they enjoy, even if that means they do not choose management positions but instead function as culture leaders.
  • Long-term enjoyment comes from helping staff members grow in the direction of their passions.