Zappos.com shows that customer service is a good thing.

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One of the two keynotes that I attended at South by Southwest last week that I really enjoyed as given by Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh. Zappos is one of the biggest brands that I know that not only “gets it” when it comes to exploiting Internet technology, but also really understands how to deal with its customers. Customer service with Zappos is nothing short of a pleasant experience and you know that if you have a problem, you’ll be taken care of.

It’s not always about a sale.

One point that was mentioned at the keynote was that it’s not always about selling something to your customers. Tony Hsieh mentioned that if you call them and they don’t have a particular shoe or product in stock or even offer it, they would refer you to three of their competitors and be as helpful as they can. Yes, this is a true fact.

Now why would someone do such a stupid thing? Who said it was stupid? It’s a brilliant move on the part by Zappos. Sure, they’ll lose the sale, but why does it have to be about profits and lost sales? You just built a great rapport with that customer so next time they want to buy something, they’ll build upon that experience and go ahead and buy it from Zappos. In my opinion, the building of a strong customer experience will help create passionate customers who will spread your message on your behalf – almost like an evangelist. Free publicity is worth so much more than a simple lost sale.

This is how marketers should interact with the Internet industry. Don’t simply ignore what people are saying about you and make sure that you’re taking care of everyone because thanks to the web, there’s a huge potential that if a customer has a crappy experience with you or your salespeople, it’ll wind up on a blog post or on many other avenues. Don’t neglect your customers. Give them the respect they deserve and you’ll wind up creating foot soldiers to help promote you online. It’s no longer about just customer-company relations, but rather you might want to start to treat them like friend-to-friend. Not the type of friend that will bend over backwards to offer massive discounts or cheap sales, but rather as a friend willing to listen. We’re all human.

Company culture helps to lead to a powerful brand.

Zappos has placed high priority on building a great company culture over the customer experience. I think that’s a great plan because as you have the employees buying into something they’re passionate about, they will in turn push it to the customers and people they interact with and this happiness virus spreads throughout the world. A strong culture helps shape the customer experience. If you have a culture of negligence and one where people internally just worry about the bottom line, then that’s what the call center and sales people will wind up passing along. That’s a massive FAIL.

What are the core values of Zappos and how do they relate to you and the web? Simple. It’s all about creating WOW through service. You need to be able to work with web technology and also have an outstanding strategy online that will let people know that you’re serious about being something special. A unified force by people in your company that is evident in your online presence shows that people in the company care. Zappos encourages its employees to engage with people online using Twitter – they’re official people there so if you have ANY questions about Zappos, it seems that you can interact with anyone and you’ll get your issue resolved as quickly as possible. Smart move.

Zappos is doing so much more with its online marketing and word of mouth that it’s not shocking that many people are buying into this strategy. It’s a strong one and after hearing Tony Hsieh speak, it makes perfect sense that they picked the right culture and experience. The CEO buys into what the company is about and if he’s passionate about it, it’s infectious and so will everyone else. It’s a team effort, from what I’m told, at Zappos and after his talk…I’m a believer.

(Thanks to Greg Cangialosi from Blue Sky Factory for linking to Tony Hsieh’s video keynote, part 1 & 2)

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."