A swing and a miss – wait it’s a home run?

Would you believe me if I told you that a company which experienced a data breach affecting  twenty-four million customers was later determined to be one of America’s most highly rated  on-line retailers?  Well consider yourself told!

The story is that of Zappos -the albeit unconventional but world class customer experience provider profiled in my recent book The Zappos Experience – 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and Wow.  In January 2012, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh posted an open letter to customers which read “there may have been illegal and unauthorized access to some of your customer account information on Zappos.com, including one or more of the following: your name, e-mail address, billing and shipping addresses, phone number, the last four digits of your credit card number (the standard information you find on receipts), and/or your cryptographically scrambled password (but not your actual password).”  Tony went on to acknowledge, among other things, that “we’ve spent over 12 years building our reputation, brand, and trust with our customers. It’s painful to see us take so many steps back due to a single incident. I suppose the one saving grace is that the database that stores our customers’ critical credit card and other payment data was not affected or accessed.”

Now, fast forward three months to a survey conducted by Hub Magazine asking “How good is the customer service at the retail establishments you frequent?  Overall the results of the April 2012 study suggested that only 4 of 23 retailers received excellent ratings from at least 50% of respondents.  More specifically, the survey “asked readers to rate the customer service at each retailer as ‘excellent,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair’ or ‘poor,’ and invited comments. Zappos was most highly rated as ‘excellent’ (68%), followed by Trader Joe’s (58%), LL Bean (58%) and the Apple store (54%). Happy, friendly, knowledgeable and accessible employees were frequently cited as making the difference for these retailers.”

We all know that trust is earned slowly and lost quickly.  However, customers ultimately gauge brands on how well those companies deliver consistent service that protects them, gets product delivery right, and engages people in a positive emotional way – reflecting authenticity, gratitude, and respect.  By this analysis, Zappos has had an extraordinarily successful history.  Across 12 years, Zappos has demonstrated operationally excellent service enriched by a commitment to forging strong emotional connections and loyalty.

If you have that type of track record, your customers will accept a service set-back as long as your company does what it takes to not have the same breakdown occur again, if you honestly acknowledge your shortcoming, apologize, and redouble your commitment to service excellence.  Zappos is an extraordinary example of a company that makes mistakes but more importantly makes customer advocates via their overall service culture and their ability to grow and learn from their victories and shortcomings.

Could your company stumble on the Zappos scale and quickly regain your stride while maintaining the loyalty and respect of those you serve?

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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