Why Zappos.com is a Great Company

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Zappos.com is an online store that sells shoes and is slowly adding more and more products. That may not sound very impressive but they are on target for doing $1B in sales for 2008. For an 8 year old company, that’s not too shabby. I only first heard about Zappos.com at SXSW. Tony Hsieh the CEO gave a presentation on Top 10 Lessons Learned in E-Commerce. Below is the slide.

I was very impressed by his talk. It had nothing to do with technology or fads or tricks. Rather his talk was about good old customer service and treating the customer right. Very few companies go above and beyond the way Zappos does. Nowadays, companies want automated machines to be the first line of defense, with an actual human being the last thing they want their customer to interact with. He had many stories about Zappos customer service reps, who on their own, went out of their way to help customers. He’s instilled a culture of excellent service that has generated great word-of-mouth for Zappos.

Just to set the record, I have yet to actually BUY anything from Zappos. As much as I like shoes, I also enjoy the process of trying them on, touching and feeling my merchandise before I make a purchase. I know I can do that by ordering a whole bunch of shoes from Zappos and sending back the ones I don’t want for free. That just seems kinda wrong somehow.

Anyways, all I know from Zappos comes from my episode at SXSW and from various blogs and sites about startups and entrepreneurs. Which takes me to my story. I read somewhere that Zappos publishes an annual culture book for their employees. That book is available for purchase on their website. And since they had such happy customers as well as employees, I wanted to learn more about that by reading their book. Well, I spent a few minutes on the site and could not find it. Since I follow Tony on Twitter (cuz that’s how I roll), I decided to message him to ask where I could find his culture book. A couple hours later he messages me back asking my mailing address so he can mail me the book for free. We email each other back and forth for a bit and he invites me to take a tour of Zappos if I’m ever in Vegas. I was just in awe. This guy probably gets flooded with tweets and email all day, but he’s taking the time to personally respond to me. I’m not even a customer. I also get an email from Zappos saying that the book has been shipped with a tracking number. Having heard stories of their overnight deliveries, I was not suprised to see the book arrive at the office in the morning the next day.

I’ve briefly read bits of the Zappos 2008 Culture book which is basically a collection of every employee’s thoughts on the Zappos culture. It’s my impression that everyone sincerely loves being there. It’s both awe inspiring and contagious. With so many people working at jobs they either hate or have no feelings for, it’s refreshing to see a company that makes people excited to work there.

I want to end with a video that is currently featured on the bottom of the Zappos homepage. I’ll probably have to try buying something from Zappos.com now, but it probably won’t be shoes.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Target Coupons: How Not To Do Viral Marketing

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My wife got some Target coupons for $5 off $25 in her email, and we were more than excited to go do our grocery run there this weekend. We had 2 of them and being cheapskates that we were, we were going to split up at the counter to get our $10 off $50. So we shopped and more than filled our cart. When it came time to pay up at the counter, we were told that they do not accept those coupons anymore due to fraud. Both of us begrudgingly paid and left.

Shady Target Bait and SwitchNow don’t get me wrong, we LOVE Target. We love their Archer Farms line of products, and we love the affordable yet stylish clothes there. Once I picked up 5 pairs of summer shorts no kidding. However, this episode left a bitter taste in our mouth. It’s a total bait and switch. How can you NOT honor an email coupon? The idea is great. Send your customers email coupons; they send it to their friends some of whom may or may not even shop at Target thus introducing them to this wonderful store. So yeah, Target loses $5, but they have so much more to gain. By back peddling on their offer, not only have they pissed off their loyal customers but also new potential customers who try Target for the first time thinking they were going to take advantage of this coupon. Our grocery run just now was more than $130. Was a $5 coupon really going to break their bank? Just when we were slowly buying more from Target and relying less on Jewel. I guess it’s back to Jewel.

Let’s talk about 2 companies that do it RIGHT. Take Bed Bath and Beyond and Linen and Things. These 2 companies REGULARLY mail 20% off paper coupons to our household. The wonderful thing about both of these companies is that they will honor the OTHER’s coupons and their own regardless of the expiration date. They know that if the customer is at the counter with merchandise in hand ready to spend their hard earned money on them, and they jip them on this little gesture, the customer can just as easily switch to the competitor the next time. So they take the long term customer service view and say we’ll do right by you even if it’s a slight hit on us because you’re here and not at my competitors.

Now I’ll still shop at Target. I just love their Archer Farm chips and granola bars too much. I think they’ve come a long way as far as positioning themselves as affordable and having good quality. However, if more episodes like this ensue, it will definitely makes us think twice.

Popularity: 6% [?]

Yelp.com – Stop Being Evil, A Commentary on Today’s Social Review Sites

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Yelp.com, for those of you not in the know, was started by 2 former PayPal employees. It’s a website that features reviews of local businesses submitted by users of the website. Yelp has some great social networking features as well as a reputation system that encourages users to stick to the site and submit more and more reviews. It’s actually quite neat.

Let me preface this with the fact that I started out loving Yelp. I came to rely on it for every restaurant I wanted to try out. I even introduced my wife to it who then proceeded to go on a Yelp rampage. Within a period of a month she had written about 60 reviews and proceeded to become a Yelp Elite member – a status bestowed on users who are both prolific and write good quality content.

My love affair with Yelp started to turn sour when I used it not from the point of view of a review consumer, but as a business owner. I teach Chinese martial arts (aka wushu) at one of the most reputable schools in Chicago. Working in technology, I realize the importance of having an Internet presence that extends beyond just having a static website. In order to build a good online reputation for the school, I asked all my students to write their review of the school on Yelp. Most of the students aren’t so Internet savvy and hadn’t even heard of Yelp. I was basically recommending Yelp to this group of people.

I got a total of 28 students to review the school. Everybody wrote their honest impression of the school. I didn’t force or coach anyone to write what they didn’t want to write. I just told them to get on the site and review us. My thought was that if you were looking for a wushu school in Chicago on Yelp, you’ll gravitate to the one with the most reviews provided that the reviews were meaningful.

Do No Evil

This is when the problem began. After a few days, the reviews started disappearing one by one on the Yelp site until I went from 28 reviews to 18 reviews. I was pissed. I know you can flag reviews, and I suspected that maybe a competing business who’s reviews weren’t so glowing was flagging my students’ reviews. I emailed Yelp, and they didn’t tell me anything useful. Their response was a cookie cutter legalese mumbo jumbo saying that their only concern was the quality of the site and that they had final say of what when on the site. Since my wife was an Elite member, I thought maybe she would have more pull. Again she was given the exact same cookie cutter response. I wasn’t ready to give up on Yelp just yet and found out a friend of mine in Palo Alto knew a Yelp employee. I contacted that Yelp employee and ran into the same brick wall. At that point I just threw up my hands and said screw it.

Nowadays I never go back to Yelp for any reviews. They’ve totally lost me as a visitor. I just can’t help but wonder what other perfectly good businesses reviewed on there have totally been shafted. When you have a lot of reviews, losing a couple here and there is not a big deal. But if you had a small business and all you had were 4 glowing reviews and 2 of them got deleted, that could make the difference between the visitor going to you or to the next guy with 2 equally good reviews.

Social review sites are popping up all over the net. All the major players like Google, MSN, Yahoo, and AOL have them. We’ve reached the point where users no longer trust in traditional marketing and advertising. Proclaiming you’ve got the best tacos is town is not enough. People want to read what other people have to say about your tacos. In the future, as people get more and more net savvy, the differentiating factor of these review sites is whether the user can trust these reviews or not. As for Yelp, they’ve totally lost my trust and until they make it right I’m going to keep telling people not to go there.

Popularity: 3% [?]

Dell Customer Service Redemption

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So Dell’s been getting pretty bad rep when it comes to customer service and it’s stock got hammered as a result. Even though they’ve taken measures to fix that, the perception is still somewhat tainted. Well, recently, I bought a Dell monitor to increase my productivity so I thought I’d blog about my experience as it was somewhat unique.

I decided to purchase the widescreen LCD through an employee purchase program. My employer is a Dell partner so Dell offers a discount for us. Fair enough. I quickly searched the net to see if there’s a coupon for it as Dell’s always running a promotion. I found one for $45 off and thought – sweet – employee purchase discount AND $45 off. So I went to the employee purchase portal and tried to order the monitor and apply the coupon. I could not get the coupon to work, but needed to monitor so I went ahead and bought it anyways. I tried to call customer service, but it was already too late so I waited till the next day.

So I call Dell customer service and explained my situation to the lady on the phone. This is what she tells me. The coupon was meant only for Dell Home and Home Business and not employee portal. Well, I’m not sure how I was supposed to know that but whatever, had I known that I would have taken the course of action that would have offered me the most savings. She was not helpful at all. She recommended that I should RETURN the monitor as soon as I get it to receive my credit back, and then REPURCHASE the monitor through Dell Home with the coupon (which also comes with free shipping btw). I said, lady – do you realize what you’re saying? You’re gonna lose money on the coupon AND ship the exact same monitor to me for free. Does that make good business sense or even common sense? She said, there’s nothing she could do to help and that was the only option if I wanted the coupon. At this point I thought wow – either they’ve got really stupid employees who have no common sense or their policies are so stupid that it serves them right that they’re doing so bad as a company. I was ready to blog about them and add yet another scathing review of their customer service.

Well, being Asian (and cheap) I still wanted to save that $45 so I called Dell customer service again. This time I got another person. I explained the situation to him and did not mention my terrible experience with the previous Dell rep. This guy was the exact opposite. He understood the unique situation, didn’t know how to resolve it, but he was gonna try his best to see that I get the discount. He asked me to hold for a few while he got a hold of someone who could handle this. Once it was clear that he couldn’t he asked for my number and said he’ll do some research and get back to me. He calls me up later to give me an update saying that it looks like he should be able to apply the coupon towards my purchase and that I should see the charge back in a couple of days. Sure enough, I get an email from Dell days later saying that I got a refund. The next day after, the same guy calls me up to ask if I did indeed get my refund and if everything was OK. I told him it was great and that I was very pleased with it. I was pretty happy with the guy and it’s people like him that make the difference.

The sad thing is, this is how it was supposed to be in the first place. There was a time when you drove to the gas station that there would be attendants who would wipe your windshield, pump your gas, fill your tires and generally just take care of you. Sadly, nowadays, the mighty dollar man is all about saving pennies at the cost of customer service. What they don’t realize is that consumers will just go somewhere else.

Popularity: 1% [?]