Do You Cultivate Your Culture Like Zappos Does?

Zappos Culture Pole with License PlateI toured the Las Vegas headquarters of Zappos.com last week. I’d heard about how great their culture is, but nothing prepared me for what I saw.

By the way, if you’re not familiar with Zappos, their an online Clothing retailer. They figured out how to sell shoes online, which most people thought was impossible (free shipping both directions is the key). For 94% of their customers, this is all they know.

Going one level deeper, however, and we find that Zappos is a Customer Service company. All phone calls are answered in their headquarters in Las Vegas, 24 hours/day, 365 days/year (they moved to Vegas early on because of the 24/7 culture there). Most call centers train their staff to limit the time per call, and reps are evaluated based on that number. Not at Zappos. They do track performance and are highly efficient, but they train their staff to connect with each customer, to build a relationship, even if only on the phone for a few minutes. This level of customer service defines Zappos and allowed them to grow beyond shoes, and may someday allow them to grow into any industry they choose. Zappos Airlines, perhaps?

Go one level deeper and you will find that Zappos is a Culture company. Their 10 core values came from staff, not management. They have 4 weeks of training for new staff. At the end of that time they are offered $2000 to quit. Almost no one accepts that offer. All of their desks look like the one in this photo, including those of senior management. They each have a “culture pole” that’s used to hang their license plate or any other awards or recognition. Every year on their anniversary date, they get a renewal sticker for their plate.

Many people think of culture as soft, or psychological, as opposed to numbers-driven and productive. Zappos sold to Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion. I’d say they’re getting the most out of their people, wouldn’t you?

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