Tag Archives: customer service

Guest Post: Create a Zappos-Like Culture of Customer Service With Performance Metrics

We’ve written about Zappos’ great social media efforts, but the online shoe retailer has other impressive qualities, too. In this week’s guest post, Software Advice’s Ashley Furness tells you how to create a Zappos-like culture of customer service using performance metrics.

It seems traditional marketing increasingly turns away customers in today’s Yelp and social media-obsessed world. Advertising, PR, and other promotional spending fall on deaf ears while bad messages travel further, faster.

This has prompted a sea-change in the way some companies approach their marketing budget. Could a Zappos-level of customer service provide a better return on investment?

“Zappos invests in the call center not as cost, but the opportunity to market,” Zappos Loyalty Manager Joseph Michelli explained to me recently. He authored a whole book on the concept, called The Zappos Experience. This has resulted in as much as 75 percent of their sales coming from return customers, who spend on average 2.5 times more than first-timers.

So how do you create this Zappos-like culture? It starts with the basics – performance metrics.

It’s About the Wow Moments
Making the customer feel appreciated is a priority for Zappos. They do this by grading calls on a 100-point scale they call the “Happiness Experience Form.” Every agent is expected to maintain a 50-point average or higher. This score is based on several factors, including:

  • Whether or not the agent tried to create a personal emotional connection with the caller
  • Whether or not the agent continued the conversation if the customer responded positively
  • Whether or not the agent identified and responded to the customer’s unstated needs
  • And whether or not the agent gave a “wow” experience or went above and beyond

“Customer service creates an environment of one-to-one communication. That intimacy creates a special opportunity to build a relationship as opposed to a top-of-mind impression through advertising,” Michelli said.

At the end of the month, management identifies agents with less than a 50-point average on the Happiness Experience Form. Those agents receive extra training. Top performers are rewarded with paid hours off and other incentives.

Watch Those Idle Chats
Zappos also monitors “abandonment time,” or periods when an agent has a chat session open even though the customer already disconnected from the chat. The reason this is so important is two-fold:

One, idle chats are a symptom of chat avoidance – or the agent purposefully creating conditions so they don’t have to respond; and two, when agents aren’t responding, customers wait longer. The longer they wait, the more apt they are to abandon the session.

This strategy zeroes in on the cause of unproductivity in the chat setting – idle chats – without deterring agents from expressing the values in the Happiness Experience Form.

Still Measuring Call Quantities?
Zappos’s longest call on record lasted more than eight hours, and guess what? This interaction was lauded by leadership as a stellar example of serving the customer.

“It’s more important that we make an emotional connection with the customer, rather than just quickly getting them off the phone,” says Derek Carder, Customer Loyalty Operations Manager for Zappos.

Instead of valuing quick time to resolution or processing high call volumes, Zappos looks at the percentage of time an agent spends on the phone. Every agent is expected to spend 80 percent of their time on the phone, in chat, or in an email response. This metric is a way to empower the team and to utilize time in a way that best promotes customer loyalty.

Attendance is Key
Absenteeism can be a huge detractor from your customer service productivity. Zappos uses a program they call Panda to combat this trend. Employees receive a point for every day they miss work or come in late. Staff with zero points in a given period receive a varying number of paid hours off. These hours can be accrued and stacked for an entire paid day off.

This decreases the days missed by employees, but also increases job satisfaction. What Zappos-level strategies does your company use to create a customer-centric culture? Let us know by commenting here.

Ashley Furness is a market analyst with Software Advice.

Insights from the BDI Social Consumer Conference

I recently attended the Social Consumer 2012 conference, presented by the Business Development Institute. Representatives from major brands discussed how they used social media to connect with customers. There were five fascinating presentations (and one entertaining interview, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal’s Simon Constable) followed by roundtable discussions hosted by experts in numerous fields. A very educational experience.

If you couldn’t attend, here are some highlights.

JetBlue on Twitter Drinking From the Fire Hose
Jenny Dervin, VP of Corporate Communications, called customer service on Twitter drinking from the fire hose.She gave a recent example of how JetBlue uses Twitter to handle complaints. A passenger had a carry-on bag that held a folding bicycle. The ticket agent ignored the fact that the bag was the proper size and weight for carry-on, and charged the passenger JetBlue’s standard bike fee — meant for bikes that take up valuable space in the cargo hold. Unsurprisingly, the passenger complained about the fee on social media and got his Oregon-based bike club to join in. Dervin’s team saw the problem on Twitter and issued a refund within 24 hours. Now the entire bike club are JetBlue fans.

The Lesson: Dervin put it best: A service failure is an opportunity to build loyalty — if it’s done well.When a customer has a problem, “you get credit for publicly saying We agree with you and we will look into this.’”

Fun fact: JetBlue has 15-20 people monitoring Twitter and other social media channels using CoTweet; six are on duty at any given time.

MultiVu Brands As Storytellers
Tom Miale, Director of Multimedia Engagement at MultiVu, said that the #1 issue at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive was that brands must become storytellers to be compelling to customers. As an example, Miale presented the Facebook Page for Captain Morgan. The company uses the Timeline feature to post events all the way back to 1635, the real Morgan’s birthdate. In the 1800s section of the Timeline, you’ll find photos of Morgan’s crew, accompanied by jokes and stories in the captain’s sly tone. This is a fun and innovative way to take full advantage of the Timeline feature by creating stories that involve customers and keep them on your Facebook Page.

The Lesson: Not every brand has the adventurous history of a pirate. But you can still say a lot about your company and your product, from your humble beginnings to the challenges you’ve overcome. Your employees undoubtedly have interesting stories; ask to share them to help create a personal, emotional connection to customers. 

Fun Fact: Miale told us that, in 1965, three 60-second commercial spots could reach 80% of American adults. Today, youd need 117 commercials to accomplish that feat.

Tasti D-Lite Swirls Around Foursqaure
BJ Emerson, Vice President of Technology for Tasti D-Lite, may have been the hit of the conference — and not just because he was giving out coupons. He showed how the frozen-treat company allows customers to connect their store TreatCards to Fourquare. When the clerk swipes the card, the customer is automatically checked in on Foursquare (which gets posted on Twitter and Facebook if the customer chooses). Emerson cautioned brands to “go beyond the mechanics and look at the dynamics. He cited an example of a Tasti cashier who knew to push the “Foursquare discount” button on the register, but didn’t know what the customer meant when she said “I’m actually the Mayor.” Our social media tools seem straightforward, but you have to make sure you train your staff how to use them in face-to-face situations with customers.

The Lesson: Emerson had the most retweeted line of the conference: Referring to the fact that brands now know where their customers are in real time, thanks to Foursquare and Twitter: “We used to call it stalking; now we call it location-based marketing.” Luckily, most brands are using that knowledge for good, by giving instant discounts and prizes.

Fun Fact: Emerson recommended creating a Google Alert for online mentions of your brand. Make that alert an RSS feed and send the feed to Outlook. That way, you have an offline archive of all your mentions and can search back through years. It’s more efficient than combing through the archives on Twitter or its various applications.

This was only a small part of the great information given by knowledgeable speakers. Thanks to BDI’s Sponsorship Event Coordinator Jennifer Brous, Director of Events Maria Feola-Magro, and CEO Steve Etzler for another informative conference.

360: Does Your Brand Have What It Takes To Go The Distance?

One Brand.

At Brandemix, it’s our vision. If you think it’s simple, think again.

Organizations, from healthcare non-profits to global financial firms, acutally convey different messages to different audiences. These companies have one mission statement and set of values for employees, another for customers, yet another for shareholders, and possiby a fourth for talent they’re trying to attract. But some customers become applicants; some applicants become employees. Employees are also investors.

Put this in the new marketing landscape, where brands communicate globally to audiences 24 hours a day. It soon becomes obvious that a single, focused brand improves marketing, retention, recruiting, and return to shareholder.

Here’s how the process works:

Most people in your audience are customers first. We all know the reasons why branding is important in the general marketplace: it creates awareness, distinguishes you from competitors, and makes an emotional connection with buyers. Advertising has gone beyond answering questions like “What does the product do?” and now addresses “How does this product me feel?” and “What does this product say about me?” Good branding creates loyalty and evangelism, as followers sing the brand’s praises to their friends through social networks. Look at the passion for Apple products, Ford Mustangs, or even Oreo cookies.

That love leads some customers to want to work for the brand.

Check your home page, then your careers page.
Is there a value proposition? Are the branding and messaging still the same? If not, that potential employee might wonder which identity is the “real” one – and suddenly the idea of working for your brand doesn’t soundso desirable. It’s crucial that the marketing and HR departments share the same vision and values; otherwise, job-seekers may feel like they’re applying for a position with Jekyll & Hyde.

You passed the first test, now what?
Let’s say that your careers site is branded perfectly and the employer value proposition is consistent with your corporate brand. The customer, who became an applicant, got the job and is now an employee. What happens now? Are they exposed to and trained with the same branding that made them love the company in the first place?

This is an important question; a recent study by Aon Hewitt showed that the companies with the most engaged employees outperformed the stock market in 2010, and the Harvard Service Profit Chain states that engaged employees result in a 22% increase in revenue. So the internal communications office must also be aligned with the HR and marketing departments.


“One Brand” ensures that your customers, employees, and business partners all share a core belief in your brand.

Did your brand go the distance—360 messaging consistent across internal, external, candidate, employee, investor, alumni, and vendor?

If your branding isn’t a singular, consistent message shared by your entire company, maybe it’s time to consider a re-branding effort. Brandemix can help.

Social Media PR Disaster: Too Fat to Fly

I’ve received great feedback on my series of Social Media PR Disasters. This week, let’s look at the lessons learned from last year’s “Too Fat to Fly” incident involving one of BRANDEMiX fav brands: Southwest Airlines.

The Brand: Southwest Airlines

  • Over 12 million monthly visits to its website
  • Over 1.1 million Twitter followers
  • 1.6 million Facebook likes

The Backstory: In February 2010, the irreverent filmmaker Kevin Smith was removed from an Oakland-to-Burbank Southwest flight because, the airline claimed, he violated the company’s size policy and would have to buy a second seat, which wasn’t available on that flight. Smith replied that he could put both arm rests down, proving that he hadn’t violated the policy. One flight attendant told him that the captain himself had deemed Smith a “safety risk.” After removing Smith, Southwest offered him a $100 voucher, which he said was little compensation for being humiliated in front of the entire plane.

The Backlash: Smith immediately took to Twitter, where he has 1.8 million followers—about 700,00 more than Southwest Airlines itself. In more than 200 posts, Smith was merciless to Southwest, calling them “the Greyhound of the Air” in one of his less crude tweets. He said the airline tagged him as “Too Fat to Fly,” likening his case to discrimination. He also spent hours recounting the story on his podcast, exposing thousands more of his fans to Southwest’s controversial actions.

Kevin Smith tweeted this humorous photo on his next Southwest flight

The Response: Just as Smith’s fans took up the cause, Southwest fans made sure to alert the company  via Twitter. Southwest responded with tweets like “Hey folks – trust me, I saw the tweets from @ThatKevinSmith I’ll get all the details and handle accordingly! Thanks for your concerns!”

The airline then misstepped by issuing a statement on its blog, which included the line, “Mr. Smith originally purchased two Southwest seats on a flight from Oakland to Burbank – as he’s been known to do when traveling on Southwest.” This is the filmmaker’s private travel information, which the airline released without his approval.

The Result: Linda Rutherford, Southwest’s Vice President of Communications, spoke to Smith on the phone and personally apologized. She posted an entry on the airline’s blog stating “I for one have learned a lot today. The communication among our employees was not as sharp as it should have been and it’s apparent that Southwest could have handled this situation differently. Thanks, Kevin, for your passion around this topic.” However, Rutherford also contradicted the earlier claim that the captain had singled out Smith as a safety risk, illustrating that communication among Southwest did indeed need improving. Between Smith’s rabid fan base and Southwest’s continued stumbling, CNET called the incident “about the worst scenario imaginable” for the airline.

Southwest Airlines’ official blog

The Takeaway: So what lessons can be learned form the incident that Kevin Smith called “Too Fat to Fly”?

– Be Prepared
 Smith’s flight was on a Saturday, and he began tweeting about the problem as he waited for the next flight (on Southwest, in fact) and while he was in the air. Imagine almost 48 hours of uncontested bad press if no one at Southwest had been monitoring the company’s Twitter feed or Google Alerts until Monday. Luckily, a marketing rep was on social media duty and mounted an initial response very quickly.

– Train the PR Department in Customer Service – and Vice-Versa
Where does customer service end and public relations begin? Customer service, previously a private interaction between a company and an individual, now takes place in public, via Twitter and Facebook, and in real time. Southwest’s PR team needed to coordinate with the customer service department in order to evaluate the problem. If the two divisions are destined to become one, your company would benefit from cross-training.

– Admit When You’re Wrong
It soon became clear how much Southwest mishandled the situation. The airline claimed that the pilot made the decision to remove Smith, when in reality the pilot never saw him; it said that Smith’s seatmates complained, when they actually never spoke up; and it claimed that Smith violated its size policy, when he didn’t. Southwest thus had little choice but to apologize. “I told him we made a mistake in trying to board him as a standby passenger and then remove him. And I told him we were sorry,” Communications VP Rutherford wrote in her blog. For his part, Smith described Rutherford as “very sweet, warmly compassionate, and apologetic.” Sometimes the high road is the only road to take.

 Read my recent article about what happened when Chevrolet gave a little too much power to its critics and faced a similar Social Media PR Disaster.