A Lesson in Communication From Zappos

Even though I never brought anything from Zappos, I am fascinated by the company. I have heard so many good things about the organization, their culture and customer service. I even brought myself the book “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh (Zappos CEO) and it is “next” on my book shelf.

Apparently, Zappos just completed their 1st anniversary of their merger with Amazon and Tony posted the email he sent to all Zappos employees when the merger was announced (highly recommended for reading). The communication instantly struck a very positive note with me. It was:

  • The message and the details are crisp and clear.
  • He explained the rationale for the decision by highlighting the top 3 reasons, which are easy to understand.
  • He clearly assured people about the incoming change at multiple points in the email. And, his assurance was complete, not guarded.
  • Every change brings forth a lot of questions in the employees’ minds and Tony tries to answer them. But, very cleverly, the most burning questions are a part of the body of the main message, while the remaining are parked at the end of the message. It is so important not to overwhelm people with information overload.
  • Tony comes across as extremely transparent in his communication. For instance, he handles the departure of a senior executive very transparently. And by the way, the very act of publishing an internal company email on the internet sets a very high standard of transparency!
  • Values are important. They set the norms. And it is critical for leaders to communicate, clarify and live the values. They really define the culture. In explaining his decisions, Tony makes references to Zappos’ values such as “Embrace and Drive Change” and “Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication”. This is a beautiful way to talking to people with your actions centered around defined, accepted anchors.
  • And finally, for most of it, he keeps the language “Human”. I cannot emphasize enough on this and several leaders and companies miss this mark. Tony clearly says that he is sticking to a formal tone in some instances because of legal requirements. But, for most parts, his tone, flow and words are very human and not traditional “business-speak”. I mean – one of the most commonly used phrases in business is “We would like to thank you for your patience and apologize for any inconvenience caused”. Why can’t we simply say “We are sorry. We are terribly sorry. We are so, so sorry”! Isn’t that more powerful?

As a leader, what are your communication mantras? What should be done to connect better with people?

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2 thoughts on “A Lesson in Communication From Zappos

  1. Zappos should be a case study in college business textbooks from here on forth. They are a prime example of good customer service, great employee culture, and the most importantly execution of both. They realize that employees are the driving force behind the company and correctly rewards them so.

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    • James – couldn’t agree more. I am reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh and am amazed by all that they have done. Most importantly, they just dont do lip service to culture and values. They are serious.

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