An Employee WOW

We talk a lot at Zappos about WOWing our customers, but I found this blog post by Stephen H who works in our creative services department that I wanted to share, because it really demonstrates how building a culture of WOW at Zappos applies not only to our customers, but to our employees as well. Here’s Stephen’s post:

Hawaii… or bust. \\ By Stephen H. \\ Wow, what a day. \\ On March 31st like an April Fools joke that was sent too early, Aloha Airlines ceased operations and entered bankrupcy protection, stranding people who had booked inter island and other misc flights with the carrier. When that happened I received a number of concerned calls and messages from friends and coworkers who knew that I was soon to be married this coming Sunday, and that the following evening I would be traveling with my bride to spend 5 nights in Honolulu, HI. \\ “No, I flew ATA, it’s all good” \\ On April 2nd like an April Fools joke that was sent too late, ATA Airlines ceased operations and entered bankruptcy protection. \\ I woke up to those same messages repeating themselves, including the SMS, voice mail, and twitters of the ever diligent Kelly who is the sole member of my team at To say I was numb was an understatement. I don’t really wear my emotions on my sleeve, so I guess waking up and telling my fiance knowing that she probably is going to burst into tears out of frustration/anger/disbelief (pick 2) was a cathartic way of dealing with it. Given the messages in front of me, I did what all people in this day and age do… \\ I Googled it. \\ The results confirmed my fears, I hopped over to Expedia hoping to find something rearranged automagically, perhaps a notice saying ‘oh snap, here ya go, another flight’. Having looked at the seating assignments not 10 hours prior as I was on my way to bed, I briefly let myself wonder if we’d get the same seats, or be split up on our replacement flights. I found my itinerary unaltered so I read a couple more news articles hoping to find a quick and easy resolution. ATA does a lot of work with Southwest, so there was some hope, or maybe just confusion, that they might be of assistance on this seemingly dire occasion. \\ The Expedia hold music wasn’t so bad. I say that because after the 2 calls I eventually made to them, I can’t tell you what it is. Being not memorable and at the same time not aggrivate you into remembering a tune is certainly an accomplishment. Roughly 45 minutes of this music in my ear, and then Expedia picked up. They explained the various fees I would have to pay if I had to cancel the entire package, and gave me an 800 number for Southwest where they were offering assistance. I did no cancelling yet, as I wanted to know the solution before taking advantage of it. Southwest is a great company with great service, so surely they have an option for me given the connection with ATA all the articles mentioned. \\ So I called Southwest… \\ I hear great things about the service at Southwest. They’ve come and toured the Zappos facility here in Las Vegas, and we recently had our CEO Tony Hsieh and others go and visit their facility in Texas. Thankfully, I have never really needed their customer service, and have only been exposed to cheery flight attendants and those who tend to their gates at McCarran and Sky Harbor when I was in college. I had a lot of time to think of this stuff, because the hold time was nothing short of amazing. \\ Then, 1:31 (on hour and thirty-one minutes) into some evil hold music, it disconnected. \\ No way. There’s no way this great company with great service has something on their system that just bumps people if they’ve been on hold too long, right? Surely there are backup teams, some extra call centers that can be leveraged, I don’t know, something… but was this a fluke? At an hour and a half, disconnected? Without any real choice, I called the number again, hit speaker, and resumed browsing through message boards of distressed passengers. \\ I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of stuff having worked in a DirecTV call center during Hurricane so all I could imagine was a flustered rep waiting to pick up the phone just seconds after a former ATA passanger cried on their shoulder or screamed in their ear. Maybe if ATA only served Pocatello, ID and La Junta, CO things would have been simpler, but no… it had to be a Hawaiian airline… the second in just days. These aren’t people just visiting loved ones or on business trips (though there are plenty there too) but instead are families, lovers, and friends embarking on trips that will change their lives. Well, lives got changed a little earlier than expected I think. \\ So yeah, I’m still on hold… let’s talk about this music. Just thinking about this music turns my world a shade of red, as I begin to go into a rage and at the same time want to build an elevator because that’s what my mind is hearing, elevator music…. that subtle soothing but not nice enough for you to stick around tone. This was then accentuated by the overmodulated sound of a Blackberry speaker… not to mention the false hope you get every 8 or so minutes when the music ends… only to start again after 3-4 seconds of silence and an an almost imperceptible click. \\ An hour passes. \\ So at a total of 2 hours and 30 minutes I am beginning to wonder… do I call back on the other cell phone in case I get disconnected again? Was still in disbelief that I had been disconnected and was tending to some growing paranoia that it would happen again. \\ At 1:38 (one hour and thirty-eight minutes) of my second call, a nice woman answers the phone. Just over 3 hours of holding and I am finally talking to the savior of all things aviation. She explained that because I had no part of my flight involving Southwest (just a round trip, no stops, with ATA LAS to HNL) that all we could do was dispute the charges on our credit card, and rebook a flight with another carrier at full price. \\ Resigned to defeat, I poked around online for flights. I had been doing this for a while anyways, I mean I was on hold for so long I had to entertain myself somehow and what better way to do so than to stare at the flights you might have to now overpay for. Our tickets were purchased in January for about $440 each, and there were flights from $1000 to $1200 per person on the various travel sites. \\ Now there were none. \\ Even if I had unlimited funds, on our given days, the results were null. After having a wide selection of flights to choose from, even overpriced, there were now zero. Called mom and updated her. A conversation earlier in the day had sent her to a travel agent, where they’d found one flight that was equally as overpriced. Poked around for alternate dates, not much luck there either. Kara was leaving for work early so we decided to meet at my Mom’s and make new honeymoon plans. My job was to cancel the existing plans now that we knew there were no fights. \\ 20 minutes later I was canceled and the nice guy at Expedia was able to cancel the package without any fees, including things previously declared nonrefundable like our full trip of the island. I knew I was in good hands when he said he was the manager of a McDonalds for 8 years, but he exceeded my expectations. He was a good guy and in good spirits and I appreciated the service he provided, kudos to him and Expedia. “I am going to cancel this part anyways, and if they get mad at me they know where to find me” was one memorable quote. \\ The objective once I was with Kara and my Mom was to decide on what to do from here. Mom had disputed the charges, and we’d canceled the trip. Back to square one. We decided to go ahead and shoot for something early next month, 5/3 or so…. \\ And then the phone rang. \\ Sari manages the design portion of my department at Zappos. She is on the phone…. and had found a flight and was offering to book it for us as a wedding gift. We took a look at our options given the time frame and the situation we’d been put in… and accepted. She effectively saved our honeymoon, and for that I’ll forever be grateful. If she ever reads this (and sure, I’ll send her a link, but really, who’s going to get this far down the page….?) I just want to reiterate over and over: \\ THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! \\ Working at Zappos has provided me many memorable experiences, whether that be with our customers or my peers, this will go down as the biggest WOW I’ve ever had in my nearly three years there. Again, thank you Sari. \\ A big thanks also go to the people I was venting with, or who there there supporting me as I went through what seemed like the longest Thursday of my life. Now next week I can only hope will be the inverse… the best Thursday of my life… my first as a newlywed, in Hawaii.


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Dec 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm Scott said:

That's awesome! Happy honeymoon Steve-O! :)

And Sari, buddy old pal, my family's trip to Hawaii in June was also thrown for a loop due to ATA going out of business. I can buy you something super sweet on a great online shoe/handbag/apparel/accessory retailer named if you can swing me a deal for airfare. :P

465130314's picture
Dec 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm K Girl said:

This was a wonderful, thoughtful and giving thing to do. It just proves that in a world filled with it's share of self-centered and selfish people that there are still caring people out there... Thank you, Sari for giving my faith in people back to me.

43494415's picture
Dec 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm micaela636 said:

Wow! Sari rocks!

And Congrats Stephen!

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Dec 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm ZC13050 said:

Fantastic! Just a few weeks ago, I saw a special feature on 60 Minutes of Zappos, and I just LOVED the interview with your CEO. The company culture at Zappos is wonderful, and I often wonder why other CEOs and senior executives "just don't get it". Unfortunately, it seems that in most corporate environments, there is a lot of talk about "our people are our greatest asset", but the corporations fail to provide their people with the leadership and culture needed to make their employees feel valued. Seems so basic, and yet it seems to escape probably 90% of large corporations, especially those with call center agents.

I read Stephen's entire posting. I'm somewhat obsesses with the lack of customer sensitivity demonstrated by so many customer service agents, so I was intrigued to read the outcome. Sari definitely rocks, and the folks at Zappos are to be commended and celebrated for their outstanding team work and sense of helping each other out.

Last night on the news I heard about a site called where people can briefly post their issue with a particular problem. This site is now being scrolled 24x7 by companies such as Comcast, Dell, Kodak and a few others whose names escape me. Nonetheless, I wanted to pass that along because apparently these large corporations are starting to find out that their brands are getting tarnished when customers post terrible customer service.

Congrats again Stephen, and Sari is one outstanding manager!

Laura M