Tag Archives: Zappos

The Secret to Great Customer Service

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A pair of recent customer service experiences (one very good, one not so good) inspired this post.  (If you’re in a hurry, my POV is at the end.)  If you stick around, I’ve included some juicy case studies.

Happy Customer

These experiences made me wonder – what is the essence of good customer service? Do those famous over-the-top examples make good financial sense?

I’m no customer service professor, and this subject has been covered countless times, but I do have my opinion (and this is my blog /bully pulpit) – but customer satisfaction does not seem directly related to dollar value.

Customer Service has always been a point of distinction for those making The Customer Is Always Right truly a focus of their strategy

  • Nordstrom,  LL Bean and others have long been traditional standard-bearers for ‘no questions asked’ service
  • However, abuse has caused even highly-regarded companies to adjust their policies


Social Media has amplified the impact of customer service, both good and bad

  • Missteps are more visible and make companies vulnerable to public shaming or boycotts, or minimally distraction, regardless of a complaint’s merits

For a great set of examples of service gone bad, check out this article.   If you want to focus on one, I personally found the Amy’s Bakery example (#2) delicious to read.:


  • Good deeds are similarly great opportunities for spreading positive stories – circulated via social media, they often create value much greater than paid advertising.
  • Here are a few great examples.   Check out the Netflix live chat example (#3) on the Helpscout link – – very fun.




Two recent personal experiences shaped my opinions of companies.


  • My carry-on bag’s handle failed after hundreds of trips. The brand is High Sierra. I contacted them online and explained my issue, with photos (as they requested). My goal was to find a repair shop. I had mentioned that I ideally would like a fix by the weekend as I was traveling on Monday morning. It was Thursday.


  • On Saturday morning I received, by FedEx, a large box containing a replacement handle, with a few extra zipper pulls thrown in (which came in handy).   A few minutes and I had the handle replaced and was good to go. At zero cost. Fantastic!
  • The brand is High Sierra. High Sierra.  High Sierra. They are now owned by Samsonite. Kudos to Samsonite for allowing this business unit to take care of customers in a highly personal and attentive way.  High Sierra.
  • I have 2 other bags from High Sierra and you can bet that they get right of first refusal on the fourth.


  • A recent Avis rental came with no washer fluid, which I bought later for $3.84. In returning the car I requested that this amount be taken off my bill. In similar situations with other companies the response was usually immediately taking one of my rental days off the bill and getting me on my way.
  • In the case of Avis, it eventually required the attention of 4 Avis people.  The agent receiving cars didn’t have authority; the front desk clerk didn’t have authority; the manager had authority but couldn’t make a system input; finally the 4th employee was able to input the solution. Total time for a $4 issue? 20 minutes.
  • And the solution? A $10 voucher, which means they didn’t actually refund anything.
  • Worse, this delay caused me to miss an opportunity for an earlier flight.

So, what is the secret to customer service?

BE CUSTOMER CENTRIC. Simple as that.

  • Let the customer know they have been heard – this alone is more important than any dollar amount of a solution.
  • Treat the customer like a human. Stay off the scripts if possible.  You don’t have to pretend to be Captain Kirk (see Netflix example above) but a personal touch is incredibly effective.
    (By the way, insider tip:  as a customer, treating any customer service person or clerk or waiter or sales person etc like a human being almost always yields positive experiences).
  • Demonstrate that the customer is priority #1, company is priority #2.  Avis was clearly all about Avis.
  • Delays in response exacerbate frustration.  Speedy response shows that you are listening and can nip negative feelings in the bud.
  • Going above and beyond has significant upsides – you want to be on the ‘best customer service’ blog post, not the ‘disaster stories’.  And a few well-placed good deeds can get a ton of mileage (see links above).


I would have been satisfied with a recommendation for a good repair shop for my bag, and High Sierra (High Sierra. High Sierra.) went above and beyond, to my delight.  As a result, they have the opportunity for word-of-mouth recommendations from unexpected places, including people like me. (High Sierra!)

And Avis? They worked to win a little battle, and lost a round in the war.  They will get less consideration from me next time around.  Try Harder?  Good idea.


Warby Parker, and why Brands Don’t Matter

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Brands don’t matter?!?  Blasphemer!  Heretic!  Neanderthal!  Republican!  Put down that crack pipe!

This is of course counter to everything you hear (and if you know me, everything I say).

But it’s true, with an asterisk: Brands often DON’T matter – – until they do.  Then they matter a lot.  It all depends on what value is delivered.

At the risk of alienating my friends in the branding business:  look at some of the more successful recent brands , or just brands you’ve used everyday and never really thought about (Yahoo!  Google.  Zappos.  Ebay.  Subway. Apple.  AT&T.  Starbucks. Blackberry. Target. Kindle. MiO. Allegra.).  Even better, musical artists:  Stone Temple Pilots.  Foo Fighters. Neutral Milk Hotel.  Arcade Fire.  Queen – – no, strike that last one.  Anyway, you get the point – – does any of these in any way describe the product or service?  (and let’s not get started on prescription medicines…). Asked another way, did the brand have a material impact on success?


Which brings us to Warby Parker.  Warby Parker is a relatively new web-driven mail-order prescription eyeglass business that has totally disrupted this space.  The concept:  shop online, they send you 5 frames to try out at home, you pick one, get them your prescription and you’re immediately sent designer eyeglasses for $95!  So from a value perspective it’s a great deal – – sort of in the same mold as Target – – call it cheap chic or funky frugal or whatever – – their value recipe is cooking right now.

But that’s not all.  Like Zappos, WP have distinguished themselves with over the top customer service.  Every message, call, post or Tweet is answered personally, promptly, and cheerfully.  The combination of value and service has created a significant buzz that is helping to propel the business very quickly.

So where does the ‘Warby Parker’ name come from?  Who cares?* — because of a winning value proposition and excellent execution, it NOW means something very valuable and unique that drives customer loyalty – -and that’s the value of a brand.

*According to the WP website, it is actually a combination of two characters’ names from Jack Kerouac’s work.

Sure, the exceptions to the ‘brands don’t matter’ statement could fill an e-book:  Oikos and Chobani convey Greek; Twitter suggests short bursts of conversation; SquareSpace describes a computer screen, Orapup means something to do with a dog’s mouth, etc.  These and others can help quickly telegraph what’s going on, particularly where authenticity is critical or where marketing funds are limited.  And certain brands can definitely convey a sense of quirkiness — or seriousness — that is core to the product or service’s desired positioning.

However – – while many electrons are spilled proclaiming the value of brands, the most important thing is ultimately not the brand itself, but the lasting value and relevance that the brand delivers.