Imagine you are working at a call center.
The phone rings and you answer it. After ten hours, you are still on the phone. And with the same person!
What would your boss tell you if he found out that you spent ten hours of your day with one customer? One!
Well, if your boss was Tony Hsieh, he would celebrate it.
Tony Hsieh’s Leadership
That’s exactly the kind of behavior that Tony Hsieh not only encouraged at Zappos, but also highly rewarded.
Sadly, on November 27th, Zappos’ former chief executive passed away at the age of 46 after some house fire injuries that occurred in New London, Connecticut.
His loss has inspired people from all over the world to show their affection, gratitude, and remembrances to the world-leading entrepreneur.
Tony Hsieh built Zappos, an online shoe retailer, with a simple, yet powerful customer service principle in mind: to go out of their way to delight each and every customer, even if that meant losing money in the short-term.
Tony Hsieh’s powerful work, ideas, vision, and legacy proofs the great entrepreneur, leader, and role model he was.
Here are perhaps the most powerful leadership lessons from Tony Hsieh. He had a short, yet inspiring career.
1. Prioritize Building the Company Culture
Right from the start, Tony Hsieh understood that building and sustaining a powerful company culture was the foundation of any successful organization. Tony knew that in order for customers to fall in love with a brand, employees must do so first. Therefore, cultivating a unique, passionate, and fun culture was at the core of Zappos’ brand essence.
What makes Zappos’ culture so unique?
For starters, employees are given plenty of autonomy to make decisions. The fact that there are no bosses at Zappos highlights it.
At the same time, Tony Hsieh was a strong believer in empowering employees to bring their most authentic selves to work. By encouraging employees to bring their most genuine selves to work, Zappos unleashed their employees’ creativity and performance while maintaining an impressively low employee turnover rate.
Cultivating and preserving such culture is, as Tony Hsieh would say, Zappos’ greatest competitive advantage.
2. Hire Slowly, Fire Fast
Zappos’ hiring and onboarding practices are simply fascinating.
At Zappos, every single employee goes through the same four-week training session. During that four weeks, new hires perform diverse front-end tasks, such as taking customer calls, to fully comprehend the importance customer service plays at Zappos’s culture.
When their training session finalizes, new hires are not only paid for their time training but are also offered a $1,000 bonus to quit and leave the company. Yes, Zappos bribes its newly hires with a $1,000 bonus to… quit.
Even though that might sound counter-productive, for Tony Hsieh the reason behind such strategy was pretty simple: eliminate those people that come to work at Zappos for a paycheck and make sure to keep those employees that will protect the company’s best interest.
In simpler words, Zappos protects and preserves its culture by hiring and onboarding those people who actually want to be there. Their exemplary customer service proves that such a strategy is brilliant.
3. Money? No, Purpose
Before Zappos, Tony Hsieh founded LinkExchange, an internet advertising company whose massive popularity gained the attention of Microsoft. In 1998, Tony agreed to sell LinkExchange to the tech giant for $265 million. Both companies agreed that, as part of the deal, Tony would’ve been very wealthily compensated if he stayed with the company for a year-and-a-half after the deal was finalized to lead the change in merging the companies together.
Yet, Tony Hsieh decided to leave earlier – losing millions of dollars in the process. Why?
Simple. To Tony Hsieh, his time was way more valuable than money.
Oh, and you might ask why Tony sold LinkExchange? It wasn’t his lack of passion for it, but because he recognized that the company’s powerful growth has made its culture go downhill.
As CEO, Tony wasn’t worried about stock-price goals, making his bonus, or being the center of the attention. Instead, Tony was someone driven by big ideas.
Tony was passionately committed to using the power of business as a force for good. He was deeply invested in uplifting the ecosystems that surrounded Zappos. His humane and novel values empowered him to experiment and create, to be deeply connected with his customers, be loyal to his company culture, and see life through an innovators’ eyes.
4. No Matter What Industry You’re In, It’s All About Customer Service
Tony never saw Zappos as a shoe-selling company.
Instead, he envisioned Zappos as “a customer service company that happens to sell shoes.”
The fact that Zappos’ business strategies start and end with the customer has empowered the firm’s growth ever since its launch. According to Tony, such decisions propelled Zappos’ business due to the fact that it enabled the company to focus on the long-term benefits of building a strong reputation as a customer-oriented organization rather than focusing on the short-term gains of maximizing profit margins.
Being a customer-oriented organization enabled Zappos to embrace decisions other companies might find radical.
For instance, Zappos’ customer service agents at Zappos are trained to go out of their ways to entice customers. In the case that Zappos is out of stock in a customer’s size, for example, agents are trained to encourage customers to look for them at competitor websites.
For Tony Hsieh, it was never about the sale, but about building that relationship with the customer while fostering a transparent and solution-oriented brand.
At the same time, while most retailers offer a 90-day return policy, Zappos give their customers a whole year to return their orders. Zappos understands that life happens, and that rather than earning that extra cash, they prefer to partner with their customers to alleviate some of their stress.
5. The Phone as a Branding Device
Who doesn’t love to call customer service? Oh, and better yet, to be answered by a machine?
For Tony Hsieh, not taking advantage of the phone was a lost opportunity.
Tony viewed the phone as a powerful marketing instrument. The way he saw it, the phone empowered Zappos to truly connect and empathize with their customers while building upon its brand.
When answering phone calls, Zappos’ agents have the autonomy to trust their judgement to make the customer happy. Agents have no script, but rather autonomy to do what they see fit.
He wanted customers to easily find Zappos’ phone number. Zappos’ ensured that its customer service phone was easily accessible and visible to its customers. They are actually looking forward to having them call you.
Give them a try here if you don’t trust me!
Tony Hsieh’s Book
Want to dig deeper into the leadership lessons from Tony Hsieh?
Check out his book Delivering Happiness. In it, you’ll be able to find enlightening leadership lessons from Tony Hsieh. He details how he beautifully built Zappos’ powerful culture.
A Legacy That Will Forever Be Remembered
Tony Hsieh taught us that happiness isn’t a goal we ought to achieve – but a journey we ought to embrace. That it’s our weirdness that makes us unique and that we will never find happiness unless we stop hiding who we truly are to the world.
Thanks, Tony. You are an inspiration to all of us, aspiring leaders, entrepreneurs, agents of change, and world visionaries.
We will take these leadership lessons from Tony Hsieh forever with us.