Can Zappos survive Amazon?

Seth is right.

Amazon purchased Zappos for all the right reasons. But, as the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

The key issue here is one of culture.  As I experienced first-hand during the Zappos Insights Live Event last week, Zappos has an incredible culture.  A culture built on creating happiness for employees, vendors and, of course, customers.

Amazon on the other hand, not so much.   They offer low prices and great selection, but that’s it.

Luckily for them, Amazon usually does such a good job with their web site and order fulfillment that it’s seldom necessary for them to actually engage with their customers.  In fact, they do the opposite of Zappos, and go out of their way to avoid direct contact with their customers. If you do get through to their customer service you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who can actually help you (or in my experience, speak English).  This is the exact opposite of Zappos, whose 400+ Twittering employees love engaging with customers.  In fact, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh personally engages with customers all the time.  Jeff Bezos on the other hand… 

The real question is when the dust settles who will influence whom regarding customer service?  Will Amazon learn from the Zappos model and offer top-level customer service to its customers? Or will Zappos slowly slip towards providing Amazonian customer service from now on?  Customer engagement is the new marketing and this is where the real culture clash between Zappos and Amazon is going to play out.  May the best customer service provider (Zappos) win‚Ķ.

I know Tony.  He’s an incredible leader.  Even though big companies have historically chewed up and spat out those they acquire, I think if anyone can make this work it’s Tony and his team.

And while we’re on the subject, if you haven‚Äôt done a Zappos tour yet, get to Vegas quick and take one.  I promise it’ll change the way you think about business. 

Business, Leadership

The Two Conversations

New marketing is all about conversations…not the ‚Äúconversation‚Äù where you the marketer shout out your message to as many people as possible, but the conversation where your customers are talking to their contacts about your company.

The first conversation is the conversation that’s happening some place else. 

Right now, if you have any market saturation at all, people are talking about your company.  They may be saying good things…or bad.  The question is do you know where the conversations are happening and, when appropriate, are you taking part in them?

The IT guy for a client of mine (a well known author) recently sent me a report showing all the references he‚Äôd been able to track that referenced my client over a two week period.  This included twitters, blog posts and news reports.  In 14 days there had been over 100 ‚Äúconversations‚Äù that referenced my client or his work.  Now, the question is what, if anything, should they be doing with that information.

My recommendation is whenever possible you should engage in the conversation.  If someone writes a blog posts and mentions your product, why not leave them a comment, thanking them for the mention and give them a coupon for a discount on the their next order (or perhaps a free download).  If someone is complaining about your company (check out the search results on twitter for AT&T), why not take the opportunity to pro-actively engage them and provide excellent customer service before they even ask (the whole world is watching).  Rather than dealing with negative comments once someone gets frustrated enough to reach out to you, why not take part in the conversation where its already happening.

The second conversation is the conversation that probably isn‚Äôt happening yet, but should be.  Its the conversation that you host. 

Who better to connect your customers than you, their point of contact. If your customers naturally gather around your product in the real world why not help facilitate that happening in the virtual world?  Threadless gets this…so does Amazon. 

I make purchasing decisions every day and very seldom, if ever, are they influenced by traditional media.  When I‚Äôm wondering if I should buy a book that‚Äôs been recommended to me, do I go to the New York Times book reviews?  Nope, I‚Äôve never read one.  What I do is look on Amazon at the book reviews to see what their customers have to say. 

You may be thinking, yeah, but Jon you‚Äôre on the bleeding edge of early adopters…true, but think about what influences your buying decisions.  Chances are the number one thing is word of mouth.  The same is true for your customers.  Why not create a place for them to connect with each other and prospective customers?  If you’re in the simple accounting software business, why not create the online destination for people to gather and ask each other their accounting questions?  Don’t try to control the conversation but do take part in it.  What you’ll earn is permission to talk to them about what you have to offer. 

Are you taking part in the two conversations?