Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You Are Your Brand's Cultural Attache

Good Morning!

I hope all is well!  In my last post, we talked about JetBlue's Jetitude and how you could correlate their 2009 financial performance as well as their high quality scores to their commitment to Jetitude.  We also contrasted their customer approach with that of my Budget anecdote and looked at AvisBudget's 2009 performance: losses and below industry average customer satisfaction scoring.  We'll talk more about Budget in a subsequent post.

Today, I'd like to talk a little bit more about the nuts and bolts of culture.  We've touched on it the last few posts and now it's time to dig a little deeper.  We all know about Zappo's history and its path to success.  And we all know that its success is borne of its customer service.  And we've all either raved to our friends or vice versa about how great Zappo's is.  So, for me to restate that in a different way would not be useful to you in the slightest.

I want to talk about Zappo's because of their level of commitment to the customer service philosophy and how "walking the talk" is essentially their motto.  I read a very interesting article by Tony Hsieh, Zappo's founder, and it really speaks to what sets them apart from the rest of the pack -- regardless of industry or channel.  It's the attention to the structural and attitudinal components of culture that matter most.  Here's what he says about that:

"If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff -- like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers -- will happen naturally on its own.

A company's culture and its company brand are really just two sides of the same coin.  The brand may lag the culture at first, but eventually it will catch up.

Your culture is your brand."

In other words, you are your brand's Cultural Attache.  So how does Zappos get the culture right?  And how is it that the culture is infused in all of its business processes?  What structural and attitudinal components are necessary to make this business, or any business, viable in the long term?

The answer is twofold: people and how they invest in people.  Care is taken in the hiring of people who both display the required functional skill but also have approaches or personalities that are consistent with its culture. I'm going to go out on a limb by guessing that they err on the side of the attitudinal components...  After all, you can help improve someone's functional skills but it's harder to change the softer skills.

We all remember the first day of any job.  It's typically filling out a lot of paperwork in HR and maybe a bit of an orientation session.  After that, you're left to fend for yourself trying to figure out the vibe, decipher the unwritten dos and don'ts, learn the dialect, etc.  It can be a lonely, exhaustive and exhausting experience.

At Zappos, every new hire, regardless of position, is required to go its cultural attache training which is comprised of a four week program identical to what their call center reps experience.  Curriculum includes history, importance of good customer service, the long-term company vision and philosophy on corporate culture.  The new hires also field live customer calls for a two week period.

A neat little trick: at the end of the first training week, an offer is made to the entire class: $2,000 plus wages representing time worked to quit and the offer stands through the end of training.  This is to ensure that it's about more than the paycheck -- the new employees have to "buy in" to what Zappo's offers to its customers beyond products.  It makes sense...  you can't be a brand cultural attache if you believe in neither the brand nor the culture.

It's a put your money where your mouth is kind of moment and it's admirable.  They'd rather take the loss in terms of time spent hiring and the compensation to ensure their success in the long run.  But they needn't worry -- because they are precise in the way they interview and hire, less than 1% (on average) quit.  I'll take that kind of percentage!

This is all well and good...  but about about the overall longer term commitment to your values?  We'll talk more about this quote from him in my next post:

"Many companies say they have core values, but they don't really commit to them.  We believe that it's imortant to come up with core values that you can commit to.  And by commit, we mean that you're willing to hire and fire based on them.  If you're willing to do that, then you're well on your way to buidling a company culture that is in-line wiht the brand you want to build."

Now that is "walking the talk" in my book...  We'll chat about their core values and this level of commitment in my next post...

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

1 comment:

  1. Based on my experience culture is a stew, thus more than about people and investing in people. History of a company (financial), where it is physically located, office envirnoment, policies, etc. It is a stew. Key is head of the fish. They can set the tone moving forward as in your previous post with Southwest Airlines. Herb got it.