Editor-in-Chief's Letter - Customer Service Success Secrets

How do our industry’s leaders rate the industry’s customer service overall? Not stellar, it turns out. During a session on customer service at the ASI Power Summit held in September, I asked audience members to rate customer service in the industry in a secret poll. The majority (65%) give it a grade of A/B, while 35% rated it a C/D/F. A mixed bag for sure. If industry pros want some great examples of excellent customer service, they should look to clothing seller Zappos, which of course is hailed as one of the best providers of customer service today. During my session at the summit, I had I had the pleasure of interviewing Tami Lemke, a customer service manager with Zappos, and she talked a lot about how the company continues to work to build a better culture of customer service.

At Zappos, Lemke said, reps are empowered to do what’s necessary to keep customers happy. There are no sales quotas or talk-time restrictions, and if something goes awry, reps can offer “Wow Packages” which include coupons, discounts or even tins of cookies or flower bouquets. In fact, she said they often send flowers after a customer has passed away. Those personal connections are what endear Zappos to its customers. In addition, each rep takes 15 minutes every day to write out cards to customers. Some draw pictures, others write poems, and each week someone wins the Whiz Bang Card of the Week Award.

Recognition comes in other forms too. “We actually have a Hero Award and a Manager of the Month Award,” Lemke said. “And, we also have a Sidekick Award which goes along with the Hero Award.” Not only is the recognition appreciated, but it goes a long way toward solidifying the customer service culture that’s prevalent at the company.

Heroes, Lemke explained, have leeway to solve problems – lost items, items never showing up, defective items, etc. – how they see fit without fear of management second-guessing the decision. In one example, a Hero was trying to help a little girl with leukemia who wanted a pair of shoes the company didn’t sell. The rep wanted to buy them from another company, but the customer service manager talked to the kids’ shoes department and together they crafted a package that included promotional items from vendors, handwritten cards, shoes, and more. And even though she didn’t get the shoes she originally wanted, she got an experience she never could have imagined.

But the customer service culture at Zappos is not limited to the reps who work the phones. It is the core of the company. Every employee receives customer service training and answer phones for four weeks before they are trained in the job they were hired to do. And everyone does it, including CEO Tony Hsieh, who once accidentally hung up on a customer only to call her back and offer her coupons. “Culture is everyone’s responsibility,” Lemke said.

Want to learn more? Check out my interview with Lemke after the Power Summit session to find out more of Zappos’ customer service secrets at