Tony Hsieh – Delivering Happiness

With Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness hitting the stores today, there is a buzz around about Zappos, Tony & his book. One of the first write-ups I have read about the book is a Fast Company blog post.

The Happiness Culture: Zappos Isn’t a Company — It’s a Mission

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Some quotes I like from the write-up are as follows:

But today Zappos has an employee culture that seems very much of one mind, focused on customer service and not in some sort of cookie-cutter corporate way. Zappos really cares that you’re happy, and it’s baked into their beliefs, their customer interaction, and even the way they hire.

“It’s not me saying to our employees, this is where our culture is. It’s more about giving employees permission and encouraging them to just be themselves.”

As you read Delivering Happiness, it’s clear that Hsieh is talking about customer happiness, but also employee happiness, and even his happiness. He says the goals of Happiness aren’t mutually exclusive.

“There’s three types of happiness and really happiness is about being able to combine pleasure, passion, and purpose in one’s personal life. I think it’s helpful and useful to actually think about all three in terms of how you can make customers happier, employees happier, and ultimately, investors happier.”

Volvo’s Quest For Customer Centricity


Here is an interview of Volvo’s Stuart Lennie where he shares some of the thought processes behind Volvo’s quest to become customer centric.

Customer Centricity: It’s Not Easy, But Worth It

In this interview with Stuart Lennie, President, Volvo IT, North America and VP, Volvo’s Global Sales to Order Solutions Unit, we get the opportunity to learn from another company that is not just talking about the customer, but actually implementing the significant strategic shifts required to become customer centric. Volvo has developed a vision, a strategy and a methodology to keep existing customers by understanding what is important to them.

Pay For Customer Service

Airtel – a leading Indian cellular service provider has (supposedly) announced that it will start charging customers for service calls to its call centers. Though a nominal amount, the first reaction to the news has been indignation. Here below is my take on Airtel’s move.

(Image referenced from Livin’ On Tulsa Time)

From being one of the most expensive countries to make cellular calls in (and from), India has fast progressed to being one of the most economical. Its not only the fastest growing cellular market, but also very competitive. Multinational service providers from all over are swarming into the ‘market of tomorrow’ by the dozens. Whereas the mature markets are all about maximizing margins per customer, India has been about maximizing a customer base with very low margin per customer (profiting from the bottom of the pyramid). With increasing competitive & stock market pressure, managing costs is understandably a high priority for cellular businesses in the country.  From this perspective, the move to charge for customer service does sound like a logical step. 

Calling a service desk is a rare scenario in which a customer initiates direct contact with a business. Do you see this as an opportunity to charge customers? Or, as an opportunity to develop better customer relations?  Proponents of customer centricity will argue that this is the best opportunity to better understand customer’s needs & to delight her.  But what is Airtel doing? Instead of wooing customers into this channel of interaction, they are going to shoo them away? Isn’t the cost worth the opportunity to stay in touch with customers? Are they trying to convert an operational cost into a profit?

Anything given free looses it value. Suppose Airtel is coming with the line of thought that its customers are not optimally utilizing the service framework it provides. With the nominal charge, Airtel (maybe) just wants to nudge customers into better using this facility (a more efficient cost line in its P&L). Can charging for the service make customers value the service any more? Maybe. But then, if you charge for something, it better provide its money’s worth. Else, you stand the risk of turning an already disgruntled customer into a churn statistic.

Players in other industries have used a similar strategy earlier. Computers & peripherals is a segment that comes to mind easily. Such a strategy has resulted in the evolution of an ecosystem of maintenance service providers – an alternative for customers to get their issues addressed.  In many cases, these service providers are better positioned to address customer needs & wants than the parent business itself. Also, it has resulted in increased customer value & satisfaction. I don’t believe in this being a strategy for Airtel.

In many ways, Airtel has been a pioneer in the industry & has successfully managed its leadership position. The Indian market too has been known to evolve in surprisingly different ways across industries. Innovative practices & products have come out of the market at a sprinting pace. Dismissing the current move of Airtel’s as thoughtless is to be done at the risk of being short sighted. Being an Airtel customer (a life long one at that) & a share holder, I sign off this post with the hope that this is just another ace up its sleeve.

Customer Service Champs

I finally got up to reading the BusinessWeek 2010 listing of customer service champs. LLBean (retailer), USAA (financial services & insurance), Apple (cool gadgets), Four Seasons (hotels) & Publix (retailer) share the spoils at the top of the table. 

Some snippets that caught my fancy amongst the leading customer service champs are :

  • Four Seasons Hotel – to beat the recession blues, Four Seasons got human resource managers to take on additional responsibility of manning spa desk. Both roles are about keeping customers happy – one is internal while the other is external.
  • Lexus – not only allows its customers to book service schedule online, but also allows them to pick the service representative they trust. 
  • Jaguar – is at #16 position. Apparently the exemplary customer service (especially during the sales cycle) remains the same even after the Tata take over.
  • American Express – New training programs rolled out in 2009 switched from 70% technical know-how to 70% soft-skills teaching to help agents better relate to customers.
  • Dell – is braving its way through social media (has had its share of customer ranting on Dell customer blogs)  & making the best of getting closer to customers. From a social media perspective, this is working as per plan – Dell is creating & sponsoring a platform for its customers to vent.
  • Southwest – has a “senior manager of proactive customer service”!