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Zappos Knows Who Their Customers Are – Not

Zappos is known for having great customer service. I experienced this firsthand the other day when I ordered some new running gear and was sent the wrong pair of socks. I called their customer service line, and after hearing a joke of the day was connected to a very friendly sales associate who quickly fixed my order and upgraded my account to VIP status.

While this was undoubtedly a very pleasant customer service experience, I can’t say that I was totally surprised by this interaction. You see, I had recently finished reading the book “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh which outlined a number of the company’s core values, including “deliver WOW through service.” Tony goes on to explain: “To WOW, you must differentiate yourself, which means do something a little unconventional and innovative. You must do something that’s above and beyond what’s expected. And whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver.”

Being a Communispacer, (and therefore always looking to uncover deeper insights) I was curious about what impact Zappos customers have on defining this core value. I decided to go out on a limb and contact Zappos myself to ask how their customers help to define their core values. I was surprised (and yes, a bit “WOW-ed”) when I got a response back from them:

“Zappos has a system in place that ends up selecting our customers for us. One of our corporate values is “Deliver WOW through service”. We end up attracting and keeping customers who value this concept. Zappos isn’t known as a discount website so customers who value deeply discounted merchandise typically do not gravitate towards us. Also, we value each other here at work! For example, if there is an abusive customer, we are empowered to ask them to shop elsewhere. We do not necessarily believe “the customer is always right”. Above all, we value treating customers as well as each other with mutual respect.”

Zappos clearly knows who their customers are – they have grown into a billion dollar company by meeting the wants and needs of this group of people. However, Zappos also makes it clear that they know who their customers are not. Zappos customers are not necessarily looking to get the best value on a pair of shoes – they are looking for an online shopping experience where they will be treated with a dose of WOW.

I would like to challenge others to think about what they can learn by knowing not necessarily who their customers are, but who their customers are not.

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