"The customer is always right" was the retailing innovation of Wisconsin-born merchant Harry Gordon Selfridge, who founded Selfridge's department store in London in 1909. This traditional business mantra, once thought to ensure good customer service, has lost some of its appeal in a retail era dominated by volume, speed and impersonal mass marketing. But Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online retailer Zappos.com, has found a way to return to the basics of keeping the customer happy. And he does it by focusing on his 1,600+ employees. His strategy is paying off big time. During the past 10 years, the company has grown from almost no sales to more than $1 billion in annual gross merchandise sales, driven primarily by repeat customers and word of mouth.
For the past couple of years, Tony has been focused on a personal project of his: The launch of his first book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose. The goal of the book is to "inspire other companies to think about how to they can use happiness as a guiding principle to make customers happier (by focusing more on customer service) and employees happier (by focusing more on company culture), which ultimately can lead to sustainable profits and long-term financial performance." It's currently #1 on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists. You can read an excerpt from the book here.
Tony considers himself a CEO "who likes to have fun and challenge conventional wisdom" – one who stays connected to employees and customers through Twitter, where he has attracted over 1.7 million enthusiastic followers. He is refreshingly straightforward, unassuming and entertaining. (Watch is BIF-4 story from 2008 where he shares a story about Zappos' customer-centric approach to killing the competition.)
From his company blog, customers can read everything from his latest Power Point presentation to the fuzzy details of a photo shoot involving him and a pair of thigh-high boots to his riffs on how twitter can make you a better and happier person. The "wow" experience Zappos.com offers its customers clearly starts with the CEO and filters outward. He zealously concentrates on the emotional side of the business, promoting the Zappos.com lifestyle as much as its product lines. He wants his employees to be so passionate about the company that they think about it during their morning showers and daily commutes. "There is no clear separation between work and play," he told a couple of years ago. "At Zappos.com, employees hang out with each other outside the office and a lot of the best ideas happen over drinks or dinner."
As we dig into July's selection, I would like to introduce this month's moderator Amanda Fenton. Amanda has been a fabulous contributor to our bookgroup and I'm thrilled she'll be manning the helm as begin to talk about Delivering Happiness. Stay tuned as she posts discussion items in the coming weeks. And of course, feel free to start your own discussions too.
Join the BIF Bookgroup here. New members are always welcome!
Don't miss Tony at the BIF-6 Summit on September 15th and 16th in Providence. He'll be taking the stage to share a story or two from Delivering Happiness. Tickets are selling fast. Check out the amazing lineup and registration details here.