Thursday, November 5, 2009

NACCM 2009: Culture in Action: Applying the Culture to Your Organization – Building a Brand that Matters

What does Oprah, ABC Nightline and 60 Minutes have in common? They all have featured the online retailer because of their customer service excellence. Maura Sullivan, Customer Loyalty Team Manager shared how leadership, under the direction of CEO Tony Hsieh, has built a solid foundation on customer and employee centricity.

Founded in 1999, has grown to a total of 1,400 employees, located in the Las Vegas headquarters and the Kentucky fulfillment center. They have over 10 million customers and on any given day, about 75% of purchases are from returning customers. Sales have grown from $1.6 million in 2001 to $1,014 million in 2008. has focused their efforts on what the customer sees, what the customer experiences, and what the company does internally to help employees meet customer needs. The customer sees several value propositions on the website which include 24/7 customer service, 800 number on every page, free shipping, free return shipping, and a 365-day return policy. Returns average 35%, high for industry norms, but they factored that into their business model says Sullivan.

What the customer experiences is fast and accurate fulfillment, friendly above-and-beyond service, and occasional referrals to competitors for out-of-stock product. They see the value in these competitor referrals because of the “wow” factor it produces. Also, they don’t limit handle times for customer calls or have sales-based performance goals for reps. The telephone is one of their best branding devices available, says Sullivan.

Their internal policies include hiring the best front liners. Interviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit. New employees receive 5 weeks of training on corporate culture, 10 core values, customer service, and warehouse training. They even offer to pay $2,000 to trainees in their second week to quit if they don’t want to work for after all. 98% of them stay. They even have their own Culture Book where employees can post their feelings and thoughts about working for No surprise that they were rated #23 on Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Sullivan shared these 7 steps for building a brand that matters:

1) Decide. Decide sooner rather than later

2) Figure out values & culture. Originally there was not a core value list. A list of 37 values was created but they chose to pare it down to a list of 10.

3) Commit to transparency. Be real and you have nothing to fear. Twitter has opened up getting to know other employees. An “Ask Anything” company newsletter allows employees to ask questions and get answers. Extranet allows vendors to check inventory levels and create purchase orders as needed. Tours and reporter visits are encouraged.

4) Vision- Chase the vision, not the money.

5) Build relationships. Be interested rather than trying to be interesting.

6) Build your team. They hire slowly and fire quickly, says Sullivan.

7) Think long-term.

Put a little Zappos in your day. You can email to get a copy of the presentation or a copy of their Culture Book (include your mailing address). To receive a tour of their Las Vegas headquarters, you can contact them at They will even pick you up at the airport!

One final quote: “People may not remember exactly what you did or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”

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