Random geekery since 2005.

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Amazon’s Children Are Not All Created Equal

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I recently had the opportunity to visit Zappos.com headquarters, outside Las Vegas, NV.  They offer a tour/program called Zappos Insights which is meant to show outsiders what the corporate culture at Zappos is all about, and why it is directly impacting their amazing success.

It was an amazing experience, walking through an energized, creative, fun place to work.  Just bring there made me want to fill out an application.  I walked away with a couple nuggets of wisdom, and I thought I would share them here.

1)  Like any business, they have sales targets, forecasts, etc.  Where they differ is how they approach these numbers.  While those numbers are a goal, compromising their Core Values is unacceptable.  In some cases, even a fire-able offense.  Ignoring customer service to hit a goal is unheard of.

2)  Customer service is the name of their game.  Above all, they are a service company.  They just happen to sell shoes, clothing, etc.  I once heard Progressive Insurance say something similar about themselves:  they are a technology company that happens to sell insurance.  “Whatever it takes” is how Zappos views customer service.  Free shipping both directions, and accomodations for practically any need you could have.  They mentioned that someone once asked them for a specific pair of shoes, and they insisted that they receive shoes that had never been tried on before.  Zappos made that happen.

In short, I was incredibly impressed with Zappos approach to business, their corporate culture, and the incredible success they’ve had in such a short period of time.  They were purchased by Amazon.com in July 2009, and seem to have kept their own unique identity.  I can only hope that other companies will have an opportunity to learn from their lessons.

About a year after Amazon.com bought Zappos, they made another acquisition: Woot.com.  Woot has been one of my favorite websites for years now, and I’ve probably bought a dozen of their “daily deal” offers in that time.  It’s one of the few websites I visit every morning.

Over the past few months, however, I’ve come to realize that their philosophy on customer service is absolutely nothing like Zappos.  (In fact, because of their “sister” relationship, I was tempted to call Zappos to see if they might be able to help me with my situation.) 

My most recent purchase was on January 22, 2011.  They were selling TWO 25’ HDMI cables.  For those of you that have been reading my recent posts, you know that I’ve recently dropped my cable subscription in favor of online streaming, and these cables were directly a part of my overall plan.

The order process, as usual, was seamless and easy.  I received my tracking number 5 days after my order was placed (which is actually pretty common for them.  No complaints there, because it’s something I have come to expect.)

I use an awesome service to track my packages using Twitter, called TrackThis.  It sends me a direct message (DM) each time that my package’s status changes.  With this specific Woot! purchase, I noticed that it wasn’t heading for me, instead, it made it’s way to Maryland.  (As it turns out, there is a street address exactly like mine in Gaithersburg, MD.)

In any case, I used their email support 6 times over the next 4 months to try to recover my HDMI cables unsuccessfully. 

On my fourth try, Woot actually responded, and asked me if I’d like them to refund my money, or send me replacement cables.  I was ecstatic.  I responded immediately, asking for them to send me new cables.  And then silence again.

I even called the post office and FedEx to try and track this package down.  When I called FedEx, I asked them if they had a phone number that I could call Woot with (since they don’t list a phone number on their site.)  They did, and they gave it to me, surprisingly.  I called it, and it was a direct line to someone’s desk at Woot.

I apologized profusely for bothering this guy (I would have been super annoyed if this had happened to me), but asked him kindly if he could have someone call me about these cables.  With an audible grumble, he collected my information, and we ended the call.

Several days later, I received an email from Woot telling me that a new shipment of cables had been sent to my address.  And they actually arrived.

I’m not sure that the hours of frustration and anger were really worth the $12 I spent on the cables.


3 responses to “Amazon’s Children Are Not All Created Equal”

  1. Andrew Maxey Avatar
    Andrew Maxey

    Advice from a long-time Wooter (just hit 125 Woots this week)… Tweet them next time (@wootservice). Four major issues (one of which was my cables being sent to California instead of Ohio) and each issue resolution was less than a couple hours total. Of course YMMV, but I stopped emailing in favor of the near instant problem resolutions via Twitter.

  2. Jon Kruger Avatar

    The difference is that one company is chasing money and one company is chasing core values that they believe will make them money. Chasing money will work for some time but I think you only end up with limited success.

  3. Jami Jolliff Avatar
    Jami Jolliff

    “I once heard Progressive Insurance say something similar about themselves: they are a technology company that happens to sell insurance.”

    This is still used as a marketing tool for hiring IT people at Progressive. It’s actually fairly accurate too, although I suspect there are some of our customers who would prefer if we were more of a service company that sold insurance haha.

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