AT&T and Zappos: Two Differences in Customer Service - Leadership

By Jim Woods Thank you for sharing

Having worked in customer service as an employee and consultant one would have assumed much has changed to improve the customer service experience. To my and your customer’s dismay little has changed. Oh, certainly technology has made aspects of the job easier.

 Please click to enlarge image. 

Please click to enlarge image. 

However, if you think the experience has remarkably improved with companies really understanding the customer, think back to the last time you had a problem. 

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While in Kiev, Ukraine I called about my contract with a major communications company in the U.S. I had overpaid and moreover, I never used the service since they did not provide such in Ukraine. I asked to return my money kindly. Now, parenthetically, I knew AT&T had constantly changed their customer service program to improve profits. That seems logical. The guise was to elevate the customer experience. What disturbed many of their call center employees was their inability to empathize with the customer towards an amicable resolution rather than their typical propensity to sell up. They had and have massive turnovers. Not to improve the customer experience they wanted to secure more profits.

My call matriculated to escalations where a “manager” said she understood seemingly to feign empathy. Then said despite my being a longtime loyal customer she would not acquiesce. They did not provide service in Ukraine. Really, I simply wanted to be understood.

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Hello, Is Anyone Listening to Me?

The “manager” said devoid of any empathy, “Is there anything else?”  Then hanged up.

Contrast this with Zappos.

I was hesitant to purchase shoes online. However, I visited store after store in Boise, Idaho to no avail. Finally, I succumbed having heard volumes of positive stories about Zappos. I found the exact pair of shoes. The price was a little less. The shoes fitted perfectly.  Sign up here for our employee engagement workshop. Go>

Within a few weeks my favorite pair of shoes had developed a tear in the insole. Hesitantly, I called Zappos. There wasn’t any bickering. Within two days I had a replacement pair of shoes. In fact, I was yet to return the damaged pair. The customer service person just as promised within minutes of our conversation, sent me the return information. And get this, promised to help make this right.

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Which of these two companies do you think I would go out of my way to do business with again?

Which would you?

Since then I have purchased a product from Zappos nearly every month. They have never failed me. There are companies who talk about customer service and there are companies that excel in it.

Why Does This Continue to Exist Repeatedly?

The future is now upon us. The leadership advantage touted by “leadership” teams and talking heads has created more divisiveness than ever between employees and management and customer’s. The upper crust of the company even those in some departments are elitists in comparison to those on the frontlines or in customer service.

These pseudo leaders and managers have become inoculated with an outdated organizational model that is determined to keep power at the top. They refuse to treat everyone as a high potential. Convinced that a title makes anyone capable of leading. They employ a talent development model of hiring people who are subservient rather than those who want to rock the Casbah. 

Take for example W.L. Gore a highly successful and innovative material science company. Rather than employ a hierarchal system that diminishes customer service they have created an organization where 50% of employees proudly describe themselves as leaders.

How About Your Company?

Those who lead are far more accomplished than those who manage.

What must happen for you to grow the leadership capacity of your entire organization? What would it feel like to potential employees? What would your retention look like and how would that impact customer service and profits? Would sales be easier if you had people who viewed themselves as leaders rather than drones?

Here are a couple ideas we have thought about: 

1.      Distribute power so more people can lead and make decisions.

2.      If they fail to have formal authority energize them to lead anyway.

Today, in our highly competitive environment, when customer service has a dual purpose: The employee and customer. It is an art. We have tools to help you. Contact us to speak for your organization. We see diversity, customer service, leadership and employee engagement not as siloed departments but vital. Click here to schedule an appointment.  Jim Woods

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Jim Woods is a successful leadership trainer and speaker and executive coach. He speaks on employee engagement, leadership and change management, leading instead of managing and customer service. He is an author, a former fifth grade and university teacher with an impressive resume. He is beloved by audiences. To schedule a speaking engagement with Jim please schedule an engagement here. Go>. Connect with him on TwitterFacebook, and Linkedin.