June 7, 2010

Delivering Happiness…plus giveaway

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com, is a fascinating read.
(I should mention that since we’re mere days away from our big knit industry tradeshow in Columbus that Zappos might as well be a show co-sponsor, since it seems to be a tradition among my friends to buy new shoes for the show from them beforehand…I know that’s where I bought these!)
Starting from his childhood memories of entrepreneurship (worm farm gone wrong, anyone?) and highlighting all of his trials, errors and successes along the way, Hsieh is a truly engaging writer. I think that’s important in a business-related book — more important than most publishers seem to think! Jargon is boring: tell me about you, the person behind the brand! That’s always stood out to me as one of Zappo’s strengths even before this book came out. Fancy words don’t make you any better, they make it sound like you’re hiding behind whatever new trendy buzzword you’re spouting. One of my favorite quotes in the book, about Hsieh’s company LinkExchange before he sold it for $265 million dollars, was this:

(I never actually did figure out what a “strategic partnership” meant and how it was different from just a regular partnership, but everyone who said it sounded smarter so we liked to use that phrase a lot).

After selling LinkExchange, and doing some personal inventory about where to go and what to do next, Hsieh finds an investment opportunity in a shoe-related website. Raise your hand if you remember the crazy stuff going on in late-90s dotcomland — pets.com, anyone? I was a stockbroker in 2000, I watched that stuff collapse from the inside, all while reading The Industry Standard and other dotcom bibles cover to cover. Before Zappos, no one was doing drop shipping directly from manufacturers to customers on a large scale in the footwear business. You know what? it’s finding those weird little niches that helps you come up with a viable business model. It’s not like we’re all going to stop buying shoes tomorrow.
What I really liked reading, though, was how Zappos developed its company culture, from cultivating shared values and deciding what their focus would be (customer service is paramount — as a Zappos customer myself, I’ve experienced their amazing, human customer service firsthand). The employees had a say in what happened, and this made them even more determined to live up to the high standards they set for themselves, unlike the top-down management styles of most Big Corporate Whatevers. At the end of the book, Hsieh challenges the reader to turn the tables and stop passively reading the book but actively use what s/he’s learned to figure out what it is that makes them happy, and why.
Why should you, a knitter, knit designer or other person in my usual readership care about this book? Apart from being an entertaining read, it sparked a lot of ideas in me for improving my own customer service skills and other sides of the business I don’t often actively think about. Sure, some of it is me on auto-pilot, responding to emails or whatever, but Delivering Happiness made me rethink what it is I’m doing and why.
I’m giving away a copy of the book to the person with the best customer service story in comments. You can be on the giving or receiving end of said service, just tell me what stood out the most to you and made you think “I would like to do business with this person again”.
You can read more about the book at here (check out the Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Read This Book), and follow along with tweets about it at @dhbook (see also: @zappos)

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  • mick

    Though I’ve always had great experiences with Zappos, my best experience was with Southwest Airlines. I was calling them to book a flight for myself and my spouse, and when I told the woman on the line that, she said, “And what’s your husband’s name?” Before I could answer, she broke in, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t assume “husband” just because you’re a woman. What is your husband or wife’s name?” It was the first, and is still the only, time anyone has displayed any kind of LGBTQ awareness on the phone with me. I was completely floored and totally impressed (and a little hopeful for the future, to boot).

    Reply to mick
  • weavinfool

    I work at a county library and one of our patrons left a hardback book on an airplane. A couple of weeks later the book arrived at our library through the mail, sent by Delta Airlines. My regard for Delta soared.

    Reply to weavinfool
  • Heidi Ericson

    This is amazing. I just watched the Sunday Morning Show yesterday,Tony Hsieh and Zappos was one of the segments. I have said for years, Make your customers happy by making your employees happy and you will make money. I have seen this time and time again. When a great business sells out to a giant corportation, and the employees get treated less well and customer service goes down the toilet. I want to read this book. I do like his way of thinking. In my next career I want to be my own boss and use what I’ve learned from him and others like him to have a great business.

    Reply to Heidi Ericson
  • kathy

    Keeping customers happy is the name of the game. In this day and age of instant feedback, it’s even more critical. The best derived plans, the loveliest of mission statements and such are all wonderful but the customer comes first and organizations have to be focused around making the customer experience the best it can be. The old adage that it’s easier to keep a customer than get a new one still rings true.
    Can’t wait to read the book.

    Reply to kathy
  • Guinifer

    I love Zappos too – but your shoe link went to their Twitter account – not your new shoes!

    Reply to Guinifer
  • Angela

    Several years ago, I bought a Chef’s Choice Waffle Iron. The first time I plugged it in, my wall outlet hissed, sparked, and fried itself, as did the waffle iron. I called Chef’s Choice because I was certain that the issue was the appliance, not the outlet. (I was also very sad because there would be no waffles at my house that day!) I explained the situation to the woman who answered phone, and she asked me to hold, as there was someone she wanted me to talk to. She got the president of the company on the line, and of his own volition, he sent me a new (upgraded) waffle iron, some waffle mix, and Chef’s Choice paid the bill for an electrician to replace the outlet and affected wiring. He could not have been nicer or more apologetic, and he took full and immediate responsibility for the faulty product. As a result, I would feel completely comfortable recommending or purchasing their items again, and I have.

    Reply to Angela
  • Natalie

    Although I was saddened to miss out on a skein of Sundara Silk Lace I thought I’d been able to order, I was very happy to receive a skein of their sock yarn as part of an apology for not letting me know that one of the 3 skeins I had ordered wasn’t available before the remaining ones were shipped.
    Who doesn’t like getting gorgeous free wool in the mail?

    Reply to Natalie
  • Tabetha Hedrick

    Well, my most recent fave customer service story involves YOU, Miss Shannon. 😉 When I purchased your design book and requested the kindle format, you emailed back nearly right away to say that there was a problem with the kindle books. You had zero obligation to send me a PDF version to “tide me over,” but you did anyways AND when the kindle problem was fixed a few weeks later, you immediately forwarded me my copy (without me having to remind you).
    Customer service has been the core of my being for eons and I am glad to see that others view it as importantly as I do. Thanks, Shannon.

    Reply to Tabetha Hedrick

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