O

ne of the companies that I greatly admire is Zappos.com led by a fantastic CEO — Tony Hsieh. The company essentially drives its revenue from the sales of shoes and has managed to etch its mark in the same manner that Amazon.com did for books. Zappos.com’s statistics are a little mind blowing for a company that is essentially still growing — more than 3.6 million products from 1,250 brands and more than 146,000 different styles. But that is not really what makes me love Zappos — rather, it’s the companies fanaticism about customer service — something that is seemingly lost in this day and age. It’s interesting to parallel & compare today’s customer service to that of the ‘olden days’ — the 1950’s and 1960’s — which was driven by person-to-person sales and advice with the primary business differentiator being which had a better & more engaging customer service paradigm. In my opinion, it’s something that needs to return to business in this day and age and technology should assist the promotion of such endeavors rather than seek to reduce it by pushing the customer experience to ‘automation engagement methodologies’.

The reality is that customer services cost a significant amount of money. To maintain call centers and front-line sales staff is an expensive exercise when you slap on top of this training, turn-over, culture problems and sales incentives. The model is one that needs a high degree of tuning — but it’s one that is not overtly difficult — something along the lines of what my father says about marriage — “happy wife, happy life” — except in this regard it’s more “happy staff, happy path”. That is, make the staff happy and watch the path of your company skyrocket forwards. You see, the reason I think Zappos has got things so right primarily relates to the fact that the staff who work at the company are generally excited to be there. They love what they are doing, they are passionate about the Zappos brand and they honestly believe that they are making a difference to the customer experience. It’s a far cry from other organisations — particularly at the enterprise level — which aim to cut cost by outsourcing the customer experience and who generally have poor employee morale which has been inherited through write-downs, management changes and degradation of the purported ‘Company Mission Statement’ or ‘Company Values’.

It goes without saying that by setting up your staff to be happy, you are maintaining their enthusiasm to be engaged in your business and as a facet of this — be engaged in the customer. The customer drives revenue, and the revenue sales drive the ability to keep staff happy and the business ticking over. You can see the cyclical action in this regard — it’s definitively not rocket science — rather it’s taking business back to basics and really looking at what makes it overtly tick in the first place. Most notably, it’s also fairly amazing to see how simple it is to achieve employee happiness. I would suggest that in small business, it’s primarily ensuring that you employ the right people who fit similarly with you — this is perhaps the hardest part — and one of the reasons that Zappos offers staff who get to the final round of the interview process more than $2,000 to leave. Yes, you read that right — to leave. Tony Hsieh believes by offering staff an incentive to leave — you are able to weed out those people who really don’t want to be there and who aren’t really interested in the organisation. It’s an interesting strategy and perhaps one that is not available to all business’ but one which has considerable merit.

After the post-employment process — that is the interviewing, questioning, cv-reviewing and generally attempting to ascertain whether a person is the best fit for your company from meeting with them for 2 hours or so (ridiculous in my opinion) most staff — and I say this as a vast generalization — are looking for flexible hours, safe working environment and good colleagues. Additional perks like free lunch or free t-shirts cost surprisingly little but go a long way in terms of staff ‘loving’ your business and wanting to over-extend themselves in times of need. Perhaps my former comment also deserves a little more explanation — interviewing someone for 2 hours is hardly the best way to get them to know whether they work for you — at most, it should be a prima facie indicator but by no means the final stamp of approval. Getting the person into your office, working with them on a project or asking them to interact with your colleagues at drinks is by far and large the best way to determine whether they are suitable for your business. While this isn’t always possible — for example, overtly hard in computer science engineering roles were source code is confidential — it is definitely possible for sales or customer facing staff.

In my opinion and experience so far, attempting to keep your staff happy is the only way to succeed. The have to love what they are doing and they have to believe in both the management team and what the company stands for. If this is enshrined in a ‘Company Mission Statement’ all well and good — but if it is not actively and knowingly reinforced every single day then it’s just another worthless piece of paper which sits along side — no doubt in such companies — the other 1000 ‘brain storming sessions’ which have gone no-where and ‘business continuity meetings’ which are pointless. Create the best culture you can in your own unique way, keep your staff as happy and engaged as you possibly can and then your business will grow organically through their enthusiasm and drive. Dislodging any aspect of this carefully crafted ‘Tim Davis Path to Success’ (ha) will result in probable downfall. As Jim Collins — author of Good to Great — puts it

first get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) before you figure out where to drive it. People are not your most important asset — the right people are.

Once they are on the bus, drive it like crazy.

Posted 
Nov 19, 2009
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