Customer Service and the Triple Bottom Line – Lessons from Zappos

In his recent book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, a company founded on online sales of shoes, offers a few key success metrics for his company’s innovative customer service department. The company’s success is hard to argue with, and it tells us that unconventional sometimes works despite its obstacles. One of the keys to Zappos success was their “unusual” customer service. Here are 5 lessons from Zappos that you can use in your own company:

  1. Flip the equation on your accountant by putting the cost of customer service time in the marketing column. After all, you’re working with your customers…shouldn’t market research be a key component of your company’s marketing efforts? Making this change will keep the pressure off your customer service people to be fast, and helps them focus on quality interactions. For many entrepreneurs, the customer service department is, well, the entrepreneur. Use the customer service opportunity to form a bond with the customer and find out what they want. You might just get ideas on how to further green your products, cut your costs, or fulfill green demand, just by listening to customers.
  2. Customer service employees will love their job more (and therefore work harder, smarter, etc.) if they feel empowered. If every time they have an unusual customer service interaction they have to bubble the problem up to management, how long will it be before they feel like drones…and act like them, too?
  3. Get rid of bad customers. No kidding. There’s an 80/20 principle at work with your customers. 80% of sales come from 20% of the customers. How can you focus on those 20% when there are a few bad apples that suck your time and don’t buy much? Even worse, those bad apples tend to be abusive of customer service people, which any customer service person will tell you is the worst part of their job.
  4. Go unscripted. Customers know when servicepeople are reading a script off a screen. It’s annoying and doesn’t engender loyalty. Give customer service folks talking points and let them be themselves.
  5. Proudly promote the triple bottom line accomplishments that come from customer service interactions. Company-wide. Employees in any division will like to hear about outstanding customer feedback. So will future customers. And everyone loves a good triple bottom line success story.


Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill) and offers small business strategy for Triple Bottom Line entrepreneurs as Principal of

Scott Cooney, Principal of and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

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