Zappo’s, a company founded on online sales of shoes, has always had a culture that was a few degrees off from true north. Succeeding in a crowded marketplace with a business model that most investors would have scoffed at as completely untenable, the company’s success tells us that unconventional sometimes works despite its obstacles. One of the keys to Zappo’s success was their “unusual” customer service. Here’s 7 lessons from Zappo’s that you can use in your own company:


  1. Flip the equation on your accountant by putting the cost of customer service time in the marketing column. After all, you’re working with your customers…shouldn’t market research be a key component of your company’s marketing efforts? Doing this helps keep pressure off your customer service people to be fast, and helps them focus on quality interactions. For many entrepreneurs, the customer service department is, well, the entrepreneur. Use the customer service opportunity to form a bond with the customer and find out what they want. You might just get ideas on how to further green your products, cut your costs, or fulfill green demand, just by listening to customers.
  2. Customer service employees will love their job more (and therefore work harder, smarter, etc.) if they feel empowered. If every time they have an unusual customer service interaction they have to bubble the problem up to management, how long will it be before they feel like drones…and act like them, too?
  3. Get rid of bad customers. No kidding. There’s an 80/20 principle at work with your customers. 80% of sales come from 20% of the customers. How can you focus on those 20% when there are a few bad apples that suck your time and don’t buy much? Even worse, those bad apples tend to be abusive of customer service people, which any customer service person will tell you is the worst part of their job.
  4. Go unscripted. Customers know when servicepeople are reading a script off a screen. It’s annoying and doesn’t engender loyalty. Give customer service folks talking points and let them be themselves.
  5. Prioritize customer service. All employees should be able to help your customers. If service is inherent in the culture of the company, no one will lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  6. Make it easy for customers to get in touch. How annoying is it to have to spend 10 minutes on a phone tree before you talk to an actual person? You should want your customers to find you. It’s an opportunity, not a cost, especially if you can focus on that 20%, above.
  7. Proudly promote the triple bottom line accomplishments that come from customer service interactions. Company-wide. Employees in any division will like to hear about outstanding customer feedback. So will future customers. And everyone loves a good triple bottom line success story.
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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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