Customer service the Zappos way—a lesson from the private sector.

A memorable customer service experience can win you lasting and passionate advocates for your schools. Zappos shows you how to get started.

By SchoolCEO Last Updated: October 07, 2020

In the private sector, the online shoe retailer Zappos has set the gold standard for outstanding customer service. That’s why several years ago, our CEO Jeston George traveled to Las Vegas to observe their company culture. Just a few hours into his trip, he witnessed a firsthand example of this famous customer care.

Personal connections make a lasting impact—on customers and on your brand.

At first blush, it seemed like a typical customer service call: a woman needed to exchange the shoes she’d bought for an event the following day. They were the wrong color. There was just one problem, though: it was Friday, and Zappos doesn’t offer Saturday shipping. As you might expect, the service rep apologized for the inconvenience—but he didn’t stop there. He followed his Zappos training, looking for a personal connection with the caller.

He learned that the event she would be attending was actually her son’s memorial service, and that the color of the shoes bore special significance to their relationship. Most companies would have apologized and moved on, ignoring the woman’s need. Instead, the rep bought the right shoes from a competitor and had them shipped to the caller the next day, free of charge. All Zappos asked was that she donate the first pair of shoes to someone in her son’s name.

The most amazing thing about that story isn’t the touching act of kindness or the creative customer service. It’s the fact that a story like this will never go away. Years later, we’re still sharing it—giving the company free marketing in our magazine and on our website! Zappos created such a moving, positive moment for this customer that even we, as passive observers to the situation, tell this story over and over, in print and at conferences. Whatever money Zappos lost on that deal, they’ve almost certainly gained back thanks to the countless advocates this singular moment has created.

Create great moments; grow passionate school advocates.

Advocates don’t come from a barrage of billboards, ads, or flyers. They’re born in singular moments that make them feel seen, understood, and cared for—moments that make for stories worth telling.

Schools are rife with moments like these. Educators know better than just about anyone how to show kids they care. But since these moments often happen randomly, you might believe you can’t control whether or not they occur—but that’s not the case. You don’t have to wait for these moments to happen; go on the offensive and make them so.

Let’s think a little more about that Zappos story. Sure, the opportunity to create a great moment came about randomly, but the employee’s response to the situation was anything but random.

Most of their customers experience a pretty typical transaction; they buy a pair of shoes, the shoes arrive, everyone’s happy. That’s it. Their experience certainly isn’t negative, but it’s not a magical, advocacy-building moment—because it doesn’t have to be.

Zappos saves its magic for the roughly three percent of customers who call into their customer service line. But that tiny fraction of the company’s customer base has shifted the entire conversation around the brand, creating an international reputation for great service.

In case you were wondering, just about any Zappos employee would have responded the way this one did, because it’s built into their company culture.

“We truly care about each and every individual that contacts us, and it’s our mission to provide the best solutions possible,” Zappos touts on their website. The retailer also encourages employees “to develop personal connections on every call.” Zappos customer service reps aren’t given a set script to follow, and they have the authority to “WOW customers to provide solutions in any other manner they deem appropriate.”

Zappos has created an environment that ensures incredible interactions will occur. That’s why their customer service is famous not just for this moment, but for hundreds of others like it.

What if your district could garner that same reputation in your community? It all starts and ends with those singular, advocacy-building moments.


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