Zappos’ Tony Hsieh spoke at the VatorSplash event in San Francisco last night, recapping some of Zappos’ history, lessons learned, as well as some of the highlights from his new book: Delivering Happiness. I got an early copy at SXSW so will post a book review on it soon.

He asks us: how do you create stories and memorable experiences for your customers? Remember that Zappos’ corporate culture is centered around customer service and their employees walk, talk and breathe outstanding customer service – a 365 day return policy and a commitment to the phone regardless of how long it takes when the majority of their sales are from the web, are just two examples.

“The telephone is one of the most powerful branding tools,” says Tony. And for most of us who used to sell, pitch and engage on the phone, we don’t anymore. We now use social media tools, such as Twitter, IM, email and Facebook to get in touch with people we already know or need to know. If you can get someone on the phone however, you have their undivided attention. Most call centers have scripts but Zappos doesn’t believe in scripts, since it’s more important for them to let their employees’ personalities shine. Ask yourself – what do customers expect from you AND what do they actually experience?

“If you get the culture right,” adds Tony, “branding and customer service will naturally happen on its own. Customer service shouldn’t be about a department, it should translate to the whole company.”

People often say he’s lucky but he’s quick to remind that they had uphill battles along the way and Zappos’ success didn’t happen overnight. Ten years later, they may be a household name, but it didn’t start that way. As for luck, Tony says its about ‘looking for opportunities beyond what you naturally see.’

They also have a commitment to transparency, a core trait of a great company versus a ‘good one.’ He refers to Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, where he pulls out some of the qualities that create greatness. He encourages entrepreneurs to figure out what your core values are, commit to them, and get aligned with them. And, don’t just stop there – make sure you hire people who fit with those core values, whether it’s great customer service, simple product design or experiencing ‘fun.’

“Don’t chase the paper,” he echoes. “Chase the vision, chase your dream….and money will naturally follow. There’s a big difference between motivation and inspiration. Make sure you have a higher purpose.” He says that his only regret if he had to do it all over again was not having a core set of values in place for the company earlier. If you have passion, you’re following your vision and your dream AND your company has alignment with those core values, all of it WILL extend to your employees, your partners and your customers.

Types of Happiness:

a – Rock Star happiness (chasing the high). This is obviously the shortest lived.

b – Flow (engagement – time flies – being in the zone). This is the second longest lasting form of happiness.

c – Meaning & Higher Purpose (being part of something bigger than yourself). This obviously is the most sustainable form of happiness.

Below is Part I of the video I shot of Tony’s talk from last night’s event.

footer creative commons