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The ultimate company culture tour: Zappos in Las Vegas

Monday, 21 January 2013 | By Jonathan Weinstock

I was privileged to go on a tour of the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas last May 2012. You can check out the official tour here.

 

The tour was booked out, although a kind member of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Entrepreneur’s Organisation was able to hook me up in within a couple of Facebook messages. That’s the power of a network!

 

For those who don’t know, Zappos.com is one of the largest eCommerce businesses on the globe and was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for over a billion dollars. Zappos started off selling shoes online in 1999 and then expanded into multiple product categories, pioneering online retail. Tony Hsieh, who is only 39, is one of the initial investors and as CEO has helped take the company to where it is today.

 

The business model is based around customer service and company culture to the extent that you could call up Zappos right now and find out where to order a great pizza in your city. TheIconic.com.au is basically a copy of Zappos in Australia.

 

Why is Zappos in Vegas? A few reasons, but primarily that Vegas is a vibrant and fun 24/7 city which helps attract the right staff for a 24/7 operation. It’s also a lower tax environment, which is financially appealing for businesses to set up operations.

 

Now hop aboard and come on my tour. Here are some of the highlights. Let’s see if you get inspired! Below is a collection of images I took personally.

 

Milestones

 

Turning over US$1billion, a 10-year goal set in 2000 although was achieved by 2006.

 

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$16 million turnover in a day anyone?

 

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More milestones on the wall

 

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The boardrooms

 

Some pretty cool boardrooms – youthful with lots of colour and fun.

 

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A tour of the offices and call centre

 

There are signs saying “YES” everywhere. Did you know that Zappos has an 18% staff turnover rate in their call centre when the industry average rate is above 40%?

 

In addition, each employee, regardless of their role, must work for two weeks in the call centre to gain an insight into the customer. There are 1,300 staff in the Vegas offices and 500 staff in the call centre. Staff answer the phone with “thanks for being part of the Zappos family”.

 

On Mondays all staff greet each other with “Happy Monday!”

 

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Each staff member is clearly identified with a number plate sign with their name attached, hanging above their desk along with a number showing their years of service.

 

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This section belongs to the home of the Zappo’s ‘home made’ brands. Zappos created a bunch of their own brands and labels to accompany the existing big branded products they sell.

 

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How’s this for A++ service

 

There are 3,850 calls on a Sunday with an average answer time of 14 seconds with only 11 abandoned calls. No hold time.

 

Is Telstra taking notes right now?

 

An average weekday generates around 8,000 incoming calls from customers. 80% of calls are answered in under 20 seconds. Impressed for such a large operation?

 

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Customer service evaluation

 

Very simple but highly effective questions. You simply can’t hide.

 

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Only solutions, not problems

 

Use of language is everything. Acceptable vs unacceptable language. Every business should use this. Helping build the mindset of a positive, helpful culture that solves problems.

 

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More use of positive language – creates an environment of winners

 

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Staff recognition

 

Staff recognition visible for all to see

 

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Size 24’s anyone?

 

Shaq is a size 22. I've got him covered.

 

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Staff benefits

 

Clearly outlined and more than any other company offers. Anyone in Australia ever offered adoption assistance?

 

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An in-house life coach available anytime for staff to work with – meet Augusta! I’m on the left. Augusta works closely with staff in helping them achieve their goals both personally and professionally.

 

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Dispatch system in Kentucky

 

All staff are encouraged to work a couple of weeks in the dispatch centre in Kentucky to gain an insight into the operations of the business.

 

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Stairway to culture wall

 

Walking along the stairwell, there were hundreds of messages handwritten on the wall with staff sharing their goals, dreams and aspirations.

 

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Some personalized messages on the wall – positive, motivating, achieving – all visible for others to see.

 

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Now for my favourite bit

 

The 24 hour, all-you-can-eat cafeteria. Fruit, Ice creams, soft drinks, catered meals and wait for it – the waffle machine! At 9:00am the waft of waffle smell throughout the offices swept me off my feet. Men are so simple sometimes. Unfortunately, Zappos had to stop giving away free Red Bull as it became unhealthy, so they charge a dollar now, but everything else is free. The offices are slightly isolated so there isn’t really anywhere else to go for lunch.

 

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The infamous waffle machine. Pour the ready made syrup in, and BANG!

 

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I have now officially joined Zappos royalty!

 

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The finish line

 

At the conclusion of the tour, we end up in the educational room where there are two bookshelves full of titles that any aspiring entrepreneur should read. There is also a ‘museum-like’ enclosure of the first business plan of shoesite.com, the original business which was renamed Zappos. All of the books are complimentary for staff and guests who attend the tour. I took a few books away which I have read since, and it was satisfying to know that Tony Hsieh had recommended many of the same books that I have read or had planned to read. Not only could I take a few books away, Zappos even gave me a cab voucher fully paid to take me to wherever I wanted to go after the tour which was back to the pool at Bellagio!

 

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So that’s my tour! Did you pick up some useful tools you could take back and implement in your business?

 

I surely did and have implemented some cool initiatives into my business. A great culture inspires your staff and customers and helps attract more staff and potential customers. Word of mouth grows; press coverage increases and ultimately all of these factors help fuel fast business growth.

 

The good news is that you don’t need to be a billion dollar business to implement these initiatives to help improve your company culture. While you may not have the budget to offer free Red Bull and a fully fledged café 24/7, there are plenty of low cost or cost free initiatives you can implement today regardless of business size and industry sector.

 

I hope you enjoyed my tour. I am excited and feel privileged to have been able to share the Zappos story with others. I’d love to hear from anyone who takes action after reading this blog post.

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