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“The Player Who ‘Serves’ Well Seldom Loses – in Business it’s NO Different” – Chapter 4/9

Evolving from a Boss into a Leader

You’ll be receiving each chapter via email over the next few weeks. Keep an eye out for Chapter 5 in your next email from BOSS.

4. Make Who You Are (Not What You Sell) Your Brand

Have you heard of They’re an online clothing and shoe retailer. It was started by one man, Nick Swinmurn, in 1999 who grew frustrated when he found there wasn’t a major online retailer that specialises in shoes.

Ten short years later Zappos had exploded to a gross revenue of $1 billion. Demand was so great that in order to keep orders heading out on time they had to restructure into 10 separate companies all under the Zappos umbrella.

Here is their vision as stated on their website:

    • One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online.
    • People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection.
    • com will be that online store.


That’s a vision that’s easy to understand and easy to share.

If you go to the “Jobs” section of their website you see the attitude they want to instill in their employees summed up in 10 points:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service.
  2. Embrace and Drive Change.
  3. Create Fun and a Little Weirdness.
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-minded.
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning.
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication.
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit.
  8. Do More With Less.
  9. Be Passionate and Determined.
  10. Be Humble.

The trick is to make sure that words like the above 10 points don’t just appear on some poster somewhere but are actually embodied in the company’s culture.

Zappos does that right at the beginning, in the hiring phase. They conduct a “cultural fit interview” which accounts for half the consideration of whether or not the candidate is hired.

If someone is hired but after a week it seems like the job isn’t a good fit then they’re offered $2000 to quit. Only 2 or 3% have ever taken it – and those that stay are even happier and more committed – they realise they’ve found a job where they aren’t in it just for the money.

Raises are earned by passing tests and having a record that indicates ability – no office politics are involved.

All of this culture is directly passed on to the customers.

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”

“Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes.”

 – Tony Hsieh – Zappos CEO

Some of Zappos customer service stories have gone viral over the years. There was an incident where a customer’s mother died so the company sent the customer flowers. Another involves talking with a customer for over 8 hours.

It pays off – 75% of Zappos’ customers are repeat customers. They’re consistently on “Best Companies To Work For” lists including those of Fortune and (which means they’re going to have the best people applying to work for them.)

In a talk he gave at Stanford Hsieh emphasises that he doesn’t think about creating a “work-life separation” or a “work-life balance” like other companies do; instead he says that work is life. Not in the sense that it is all-consuming and leaves room for nothing else, but rather that it takes up a significant portion of people’s lives.

He gets the most out of his people by working hard to make his employees’ work/lives enjoyable. He makes sure people are working with other people that they enjoy being around.

As your business expands there’s going to come a point where you can’t hire everyone yourself, it will simply take too much time. So you want to make sure your business’ culture is something you get to work on as early as possible so that the people who eventually do your hiring for you are still hiring the kinds of people you want to be around.

Just so we’re clear – you don’t have to use Zappos’ particular values. Figure out what values affect you the most and gear your own business to live and breathe them.  Your customers and clients will notice – and come back for more.

It’s not what you sell. Lots of people are going to be selling what you’re selling. It’s how you sell it that truly matters. Be a customer service company that just happens to sell _____________.

Added bonus – Good word of mouth will save you a ton of money in marketing.

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