Zappos Paying Employees To Quit; Recognizing That Customer Service Isn't A Cost Center

from the fascinating dept

Let me admit upfront that when Zappos first came along, I didn't think much of it. The founder had done amazingly well for himself in selling LinkExchange to Microsoft during the bubble years, and had then started a incubator called Venture Frogs -- with (I kid you not) a corresponding restaurant (also called Venture Frogs). The restaurant wasn't bad, even if all the dishes were named after dot com companies. I remember eating there (I think I got the CNET Curried Chicken) one day and seeing huge signs all over the restaurant for Zappos -- an online shoe store. This was pretty much near the bottom of the downswing after the dot com bubble had burst, so it was quite surprising to see someone opening up a pure e-commerce startup, especially one in a category that had failed miserably in the past. E-commerce for shoes seemed exceptionally difficult, due to the fact that shoe sales (even more than other clothing) really depend on the unique fit of each item. However, over the years, Zappos overcame all of the concerns by lowering the barriers (super fast free shipping and free returns on anything that you don't like) and an almost maniacal focus on customer service. In doing so, it's built up a hugely loyal set of customers -- including me.

Of course, to do that right, it's meant treating customer service not as a "cost center," like almost all companies these days, but as an integral part of making happy, committed customers who also act as evangelists. A good company recognizes that customer service isn't a cost center at all, but the best way to build a loyal customer base and to learn from your customers as well. Of course, in order to do that, you need to have a loyal, committed customer service staff as well -- and Zappos has done some unique things there that are worth understanding. It doesn't do many of the typical call center things: no scripts, no time limits on calls and no limits on what the customer service reps can do to make customers happy. But, in a post on a Harvard Business blog, it's explained that Zappos also offers to pay each new employee $1,000 to quit, one month after they've joined. Basically, it's offering any employee who's not truly committed to the way the company does business an easy "out" after one month. Thus, those who stick around are even more committed to living up to the service ideals the company has set. It's nice to see in an era where "good customer service" seems so rare.

Apparently about 10% of folks take the money and scram. While traditional HR metrics might think this is terrible, as the cost of recruiting, hiring and training new employees is quite high, the long term benefits of having a more strongly committed staff cannot be overstated. Basically, the company has realized that a little cost upfront can help it make a lot more on the backend.

Filed Under: customer service
Companies: zappos

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  1. identicon
    Nate, 21 May 2008 @ 2:08pm


    This is actually a brilliant idea. Most people that are bad at customer service, probably don't enjoy their job. This would give them incentive to get out, and improve the customer's experience. I can't believe no one else has ever thought of this before.

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