Delivering Happiness

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Today sees the official publication of Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh’s story of the growth and ultimate success of Zappos (arguably the world’s most successful clothing e-tailer). It’s an easy read, as its written in a relaxed non-business tone; and traces a line from Tony’s early childhood attempts at being an entrepreneur through to the point where Zappos are 2 weeks from going under, and to their ultimate successs.

This book represents the next stage in Zappos efforts to share the culture of their business with the world. Interestingly they seem to be doing this not only because they understand the commercial benefits it brings them (it is very rare to talk to anyone who, once they are exposed to the Zappos culture, does not spontaneously fall for the brand – many wishing out loud that they worked there – i.e. it generates enormously positive WOM about the brand), but also because they genuinely believe that it is a business model that could be successfully followed by others.

Probably the most intersting aspects of the book is the humble style in which it is written. It seems pretty transparent about the issues/crises they faced, the mistakes they made and the luck they had. Tony identifies as one of his key influences as being Good to Great by Jim Collins which, as he says, highlights “…that great companies have a greater purpose and bigger vision beyond just making money and being number one in the market”. That this come up in a conversation with one of his partners whilst discussing a customer email praising them for upgrading his delivery for free, (and as they are approaching the real crunch time for the business), and that over lunch they turn this thought into a strategy of delivering the very best customer service, is perhaps a little overstated. Though it does add to the mytholgy around the brand. Whatever the circumstances, maybe even the Zappos folk were surprised at the impact this had on their business from a repeat sales and recommendation perspective. This, allied to the decision to stock and deliver all their merchandise was the catalyst that changed things around.

Undeniably one of Zappos biggest achievements has been to recognise the importance of the culture within the company. The now famous 10 core values started off as 37 core values which over a year were whittled down to 10. Both these and the annual Culture Book were built from within after input from employees.

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Again, as part of spreading their culture the Culture Book is free to request from Zappos.

The culture and the passion that exists and seems to perpetuate in within Zappos is exemplified by the inclusion of their individual examples or interpretations of each of the values towards the end of the book. This is when the story really comes to life.

What can other companies learn from reading this book

That there is another way to commercial success seems obvious, but the Zappos way is very challenging to most companies. Here are some other, perhaps more attainable, lessons.

1 In the brave new world of empowered and ever more demanding consumers, service is likely to play an ever more crucial role. It is unlikely to be sufficient to compare or compete on service levels within your market sector, even if that is discount or low cost. Consumers will not differentiate between service levels across sectors, if they ever did, particularly when companies such as Zappos are raising the bar for everyone. How long before free delivery becomes the norm in online shopping?

2 Much has been written about the demands that Social Media is putting on brands to be authentic, human, transparent etc. Arguably Zappos could be singled out as the example par excellence of this approach, from both a content viewpoint and the extent to which it opens the company culture to scritiny. Crucially what they also are fun and ‘a little weird’, which makes it all the more likely that people want to engage with them.
Obviously this approach will not suit all brands. It will frighten the life out of the majority! What is important though is that Zappos has a crystal clear sense of who it is and what it stands for. Yes, this has always ben the hallmark of great brands (when they are consistent with it), but it is becoming ever more important. God knows how many brands have entered the Facebook arena, for example, but what we do know is that the overwhelming majority are bland, pale and nigh on invisible because they don’t have a viewpoint or anything interesting and engaging to say.

3 I find that one of the most useful concepts for explaining how social networks, and hence social media work, is that of Social Objects, which Hugh Mcleod explains well here. This is clearly a concept that Zappos have a perfect grasp of. Whether its their Culture Book, the whole Delivering happiness initiative, of which the book is just a part, their company tours, their multiple blogs and twitter accounts, the often times zany videos of the goings on within the company, their weekly live streaming of their “happyhours”, they are continually making social gestures and owning the conversations that they have decided define who they are.

Finally, what is very obvious about the Zappos culture is that everyone is highly motivated to deliver on the core purpose. This video from RSA Animation helps clarify why that is, and is well worth taking 10 minutes to watch. It may help you be a little braver in the way you approach business.

Oh, and you can buy it here .

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