I had the extraordinary privilege of interviewing Elia Lata of ZAPPOS.
As a company, Zappos has offered a lot of inspiration to The GoodLife Team over the years, and over this time I have become a BIG FAN. Though I already came to the interview with the highest regard for Zappos, after my conversation with Elia I have cast my vote for Zappos as the best company in the world – right next to my all-time favorite, Apple.
While reflecting on the conversation, I realized that one of the things I admire most about Zappos, that was not specifically mentioned but present in everything Elia described, is that they have an idiosyncratic language that IS Zappos. This unique language is an obvious derivative of their company beliefs and values – which I believe to be the real power behind Zappos.
I have named these values and beliefs Zapposisms. Here are 5 Zapposisms I learned from Elia and that I will adopt and build into my own company vernacular and culture at The GoodLife Team…
Zapposism #1 | Work/Life Integration
We all know the Work|Life Balance cliché, but Zappos strives for Work|Life Integration. Elia described Zappos’ efforts to provide a company culture that functions as your ‘Extended Family.’ Instead of creating a work environment where employees feel as though they need to compartmentalize their life – going from work to family and family to work – Zappos goes to great lengths to create a family environment where your work and home life are integrated together. Instead of sacrificing one for the other, the Zappos culture was designed so that you don’t need to choose.
Zapposism #2 | Engagement before Experience
Culture Drives Everything. This is Zappos’ company motto; I would expect that most people think that the Zappos Culture revolves around the Customer Experience – I did. What I learned from speaking with Elia, however, is that this is not the case. The Zappos Culture derives from a word they focus on within the company FIRST– “Engagement.”
Zappos learned that most employees feel “used” by their employer, and their research has also shown that unengaged employees spawn negative corporate environments that are far less productive. This unhappiness and negativity was unacceptable for the Zappos Culture, so they put Engagement before Experience. What does this mean?
Engagement is their company philosophy about taking care of their employees first. Zappos discovered that engaged employees produce an engaging customer experience. Zappos managers are therefore responsible for focusing on the positive and the strengths of their employees. Zappos believes in “The Happiness Model,” which claims that Happy Employees = Productive Employees. Beyond being more productive, the happiness of employees transcends from the employee to the customer, producing a happy customer. And, we all know that happy customers mean good business.
Zapposism #3 | Love the Customer MORE than your Product or Service
Another Zapposism that I loved is the statement, “Love the Customer more than your produce or service”. This is so simple, yet so profound. Once I heard this I realized that businesses are almost always about the love of their unique product or service. I agree that in order for a business to succeed, they absolutely must love their product, but if they love the customer MORE – then the customer always becomes the primary focus. The product or service is simply a means to take care of (LOVE) the customer.
Zapposism #4 | Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast
Elia asked me this question, “What is the core of Culture?” Most companies’ core culture, he said, focuses on goals, objectives, and strategies. Zappos, on the other hand, believes that the core is not the goals and strategy, but what they call PEC – Personal Emotional Connection. Their culture is about emotional connections: how the executive leadership connects with the management, how management connects with their employees and then how employees connect with their customers.
To explain this focus, Elia told the story of a customer he assisted to locate a specific pair of shoes. The story takes an unexpected twist when Zappos sells out of this particular pair. Elia researched until he found the shoe in a retail store 2 miles from the customer’s house. Elia called the store, placed the shoes on hold and called his customer with the good news. As you can imagine, the woman was beside herself with gratitude and happiness, as no one had ever gone to such an effort on her behalf.
Elia shared this story because it was an experience that he found fulfilling and rewarding, and also because it is was a moment when Zappos did not make a sale. Why would he go to such lengths when he knew his company would not make a profit? Because of their focus on PEC; Elia felt empowered and encouraged to do whatever it took to connect with his customer. He says that this opportunity to emotionally connect with customers to make them happy makes working for Zappos a Dream Job come true.
Zapposism #5 | People don’t want Customer Service, they want Customer Empathy
In the context of emotionally connecting, Zappos believes that customers don’t really care about getting information, but are instead looking for empathy. When people feel heard and understood is when they relate it as a “Customer Experience.” For this reason, Zappos employees are empowered to be empathetic; they do what it takes to produce a customer experience for every customer.
Because Zappos believes this to be foundational to their success, they measure it. But this brings up a question – how do you measure empathy? Zappos uses a metric called ROE – Return on Experience.
Returning customers are happy customers, and this is how they measure the ROE – their percentage of returning customers. Any guesses on the percentage of returning Zappos Customers? An amazing 75% of Zappos’s customers are returning customers.
In my one-hour conversation with Elia, I had too many “Ah Ha!” moments to share in one article. These 5 Zapposisms, however, are lessons that I will now incorporate into my own businesses. My entire GoodLife Team listened to this call, and the whole Team is pumped to take our GoodLife Experience to the next level. My first step? We’re going to begin measuring The GoodLife Team ROE.
I will close by sharing one last insight I got from the interview. Elia mentioned that those few businesses that are History Making Companies are comprised of two differentiating factors that create a ‘different company metabolism’ than the norm:
1. A strong company culture
2. A higher purpose
We know our higher purpose for The GoodLife Team. I’m curious — what’s yours?
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