Let me give you some context: My Zappos mentor, Thomas has me and my fellow “mentees” write down 10 weekly goals every Monday; 5 job-related, 5 culture-related. When the week of our Q&A with MAFT (our internal acronym for our top execs: Mike, Arun, Fred, and Tony) came up, Thomas challenged me to think of especially difficult goals. Hmm, what could be stranger than taking a photo of myself giving Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh a piggyback ride?
So, while all the interns were waiting to grill MAFT with a ton of questions Tony entered the room and I knew this is my chance! I had been thinking of a smooth way to ask a man that's worth millions of dollars to hop onto my back for a picture and, this is how it went:
Me:Hey Tony, nice to meet you. I'm Josh, an intern in the Strategic Planning department.
Me:Do you think we could take a picture together?
Me: Wait, I have a weird request. Can we take the picture with you on my back?
Tony:Uhhh. Sure… I guess so. I don't want to hurt you though.
Me:Don't worry, just jump on!
Super smooth, I know. But there you have it! My most memorable moment at Zappos: when my net worth skyrocketed for about 30 seconds.
Shout out to everyone who made this happen: Tony, Thomas, Raphi, AGB, and “Ting Jung” (iPad Mini).
When I wrote this article I hadn’t noticed that the employee I featured, Roz Searcy at Zappos, had a Twitter handle. I just read her Twitter profile. The first sentence reads, “7+ years for the greatest company in the world!” Is there any doubt she is the happiest employee in America?
“You name it. I make it happen.” That’s what Rosalind (Roz) Searcy said when I asked her what she did for her employer, Zappos.com. I’ve met thousands of employees. I speak at their companies, conferences, or interview them for my columns and books. Most employees like their jobs and they’re grateful to have a job at a time when millions of people do not. In rare cases I meet employees like Roz, who are passionate, happy, enthusiastic, and inspired day after day and year after year. In my opinion Roz Searcy is America’s happiest employee.
I met Roz two years ago when I visited Las Vegas and requested a tour of Zappos.com headquarters in Henderson, Nevada. Zappos.com is consistently rated as one of the best places to work in the country and has built a reputation as the gold standard in customer service. I wanted to learn why so I could share the lessons with my readers. Roz showed up in a shuttle to pick me up from my hotel on the Vegas strip. I was the only one on the shuttle and Roz had no idea that I was writing a book. I soon learned that Roz picked up anyone who wanted to visit Zappos—vendors, journalists or customers.
“Why did you pick me up? I could have taken a cab,” I said. “Don’t be silly. We treat our customers like family,” Roz responded. “If you had a family member in town, wouldn’t you pick them up from the airport or hotel?” I thought Roz was the happiest shuttle bus driver I had ever seen. It’s what happened next that really surprised me. Roz parked the shuttle, walked inside the building, and took her position behind the front desk. Roz was the receptionist, yet she gladly volunteers to pick up guests as well. “From the first day I walked in the door [February 22, 2005] I knew it was the place I was going to work for the rest of my life,” Roz told me.
Two years later, December 2012, Roz is still working at Zappos, happier and more passionate than ever. One of her colleagues told me, “I’ve never seen Roz in a bad mood. As a matter of fact, the day I came to Zappos for my first interview, Roz was in her previous role as the front desk receptionist and she not only made me feel welcome, she made me feel like I was the most important visitor to the office that day—which I can guarantee you I wasn’t.”
Zappos.com is an independently run subsidiary of Amazon with nearly 1,300 employees. In September 2013, Zappos will relocate to its new headquarters in downtown Las Vegas. Roz has a new role that fits her perfectly—as a member of the downtown community team her primary function is to get to know every business owner downtown and to build relationships between Zappos and those businesses.
Here are five reasons why Zappos inspires Roz and hundreds of happy employees.
Hire for cultural fit. Everyone I met at Zappos had a friendly, outgoing personality. From Roz to my tour guide, everyone exuded passion and enthusiasm (see the video below that I recorded with my smartphone).
Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh told me that the company hires for cultural fit. For example, one of Zappos’ core values is to “create fun and a little weirdness.” Zappos managers ask potential employees, “On a scale of one to ten, how weird are you?” The number is not as important as how people react to it. Zappos looks for people who have fun, have passion and personality, and are committed to customer service.
“At Zappos, I’m allowed to be myself,” Roz told me. “I have a strong, bubbly personality. Zappos supports me and encourages me to be me all the time. At the company I worked at before, I couldn’t be as open and personable as I am today. At Zappos I stay at a level nine or ten all day long!”
Commit to transparency. Zappos shares everything with employees, partners, and vendors—the good and the bad. True partners don’t mask results and Zappos goes the extra mile to demonstrate transparency. Daily briefings and call statistics are posted on a whiteboard for everyone to see—employees and guests. Even its all-hands company meetings are publicly available. Here’s a link to the company meeting held in November 2012. If you have three hours, you can watch everything they discussed. It’s all there.
Everything is transparent at Zappos, even the CEO’s condo. Roz told me that as part of her new tour, she takes people to Tony Hsieh’s condo to see the view of downtown. The next time you think you’re a “transparent leader,” ask yourself if you’re willing to open up your home to anyone who asks for a free tour. Hsieh walks the walk.
Help employees grow. When I met Roz two years ago, she was a receptionist. Today she is building relationships as part of the company’s move to its new headquarters. Everyone is given the opportunity to grow at Zappos.com. I even met a “goal coach” whose job was to help employees meet their personal goals. “What does that have to do with selling shoes online?” I asked. “It has everything to do with Zappos,” the coach said. The formula is remarkably simple. If leaders help people achieve their dreams, it makes them happy. Happy employees offer better service.
Empower staff to do what’s right. Customers who call Zappos.com to order shoes or clothes will not feel pressured to get off the phone. There are no scripts or time limits for call-center employees. Hsieh once told me that an employee had spent a couple of hours on the phone with a customer. Hsieh did not ask the employee why she spent so much time with one person. Instead he asked, “Was the customer happy?” Brands that have best-in-class customer service empower their employees to do what’s in the best interest of the customer. Zappos.com views its call center employees as an extension of its marketing arm. Every unscripted conversation can help earn customer loyalty. Employees can even write personal thank you notes after a call. These simple notes make yet another emotional connection with Zappos customers.
Deliver happiness, not products. When I asked Tony Hsieh to describe Zappos.com he didn’t say “We sell shoes online.” Instead he said, “We deliver happiness.” Big difference. Hsieh is a student of happiness, literally. He quotes research into the science of happiness. He’s focused on the happiness of his employees and his customers. Leaders cannot expect their teams to deliver an exceptional customer service if they fail to understand happiness. Once you do, employees will speak about you the way Roz does of Hsieh: “Tony is an open book. He is still the same person I met eight years ago. He is very, very regular guy, funny and little weird, passionate, friendly, open and honest, inspiring and an incredible visionary.”
I talked to Roz recently and asked her if she was comfortable with the label, America’s happiest employee. “That’s interesting. In my previous role we chose nicknames for ourselves. Mine was Makena,” she said.
Our very own Tony Hsieh was recently featured on the "Pivot" series on A TOTAL DISRUPTION, two-time Sundance-winning director Ondi Timoner's YouTube channel that provides business and tech insights from the innovators defining our future.
In this video, Tony discusses how Zappos' pivot to focus on customer service and company culture has paid off—for both customers AND employees.
Last week in San Francisco, VERGE 2012 brought all sorts of technology and sustainability-focused professionals together to discuss the potential opportunities for technological advancements in energy, buildings and transportation.
Zappos’ very own CEO Tony Hsieh took center stage to deliver a stellar keynote address to hundreds of the professionals that attended the conference. His message was simple but packed full of inspiration: transform downtown Las Vegas into the “most community-focused large city in the world.” Tony highlighted the current efforts to bring technology, education, and small business development together in a way that creates “collisions, community and co-learning.”
Photo courtesy of Greenbiz.com
In Tony’s keynote address, there was also underlying messages of urban density, urban connectivity, and urban sustainability. By encouraging people, including Zappos employees, to move downtown, Tony hopes downtown Las Vegas will surpass 100 residents per acre: a population density that creates successful and sustainable cities. In Triumph of the City, a book that inspired Tony’s goal of revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, Edward Glaeser says, “The average suburban household consumes 27% more electricity than the average urban household.” The more residents that move and work downtown, the more our energy and resource consumption will decrease, as well as our carbon emissions from reduced car travel. (Which the LEAF team couldn’t be more supportive of!)
In the fall of 2013, Zappos will move from the suburbs of Green Valley to the hustle and bustle of downtown Las Vegas. Modeled after NYU’s campus, our new home will blend with the surrounding neighborhoods and become part of the Las Vegas community. We couldn’t be more excited for this new Zappos chapter!
Delivering Happiness started as a best-selling book, became a bus tour and turned into something bigger than ever imagined . . . a global movement.
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