Featured Image for the blog: What the Zappos 10-hour Phone Call Means for your Metrics: Hear from Zappos about their Customer-Centric Contact Center

Huge thank you to Jovahn Bergeron and Rob Siefker at Zappos for their overwhelming kindness and responses to our questions.

Zappos is renowned for their above and beyond customer service. Several agents have topped service records, with single customer phone calls going over 10 hours long. Zappos employees Steven Weinstein and Stephanie Van Hasselt both hit almost 11 hours on the phone with a customer and pushed Zappos’ legendary service into the limelight. Neither employee felt any rush to get off the phone call, but continued chatting with the customer on the other line simply because they shared a strong connection.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and author of a book on Zappos’ service Delivering Happiness, responded to these crazy long calls. He said in an interview, “In many other call-center environments, an employee’s job performance depends on how quickly they can get the customer off the phone. At Zappos, we encourage employees to stay on the phone for as long as the customer wants, even if it’s over 10 hours long. We know it sounds crazy, but as long as the customer is happy, then we are happy, too.”

Can you imagine an almost 11-hour-long call with…well anyone?

Let alone spending almost an entire day on the phone with a customer? Zappos agents don’t just exceed expectations out of obligation, they are happy to sit on the phone with a customer if it means the customer will have a great experience. Zappos has built a culture that empowers agents to do so.

Ok, but you can’t have every agent on the phone for hours and hours with each customer. Don’t metrics matter? Wouldn’t Zappos care about metrics like average time on hold or call abandonment rates?

We were curious. Does Zappos track metrics? If so, what metrics do they look at? How does the Zappos team handle and apply their metrics? What do they think about omni-channel communications? Would they ever consider using chatbots?

We went straight to the source and asked Zappos employees Jovahn Bergeron and Rob Siefker directly.

Which metrics does Zappos use to monitor performance?

Zappos team: We measure all sorts of metrics at a high level, but our front-line employees are only responsible for a few — attendance, after call work, general adherence (we mainly look at utilization/time spent), customer feedback, and any team-specific additional quality process. Ideally, we prefer to try to keep this piece as simple as possible for our front-line employees. We’re not always perfect on this, but that’s my preference.

In general, we’re looking at a lot of metrics for the entire contact center operation. We look at volume, service level, forecasts, costs/investments by team, efficiency metrics, overall handle time, customer feedback, sales, conversion, wrap-up code information, product type sold in the contact center…The list goes on to anything and everything that touches the contact center via customer contact.

We will analyze and look at anything we can measure or start measuring.

What can you do?  Be like Zappos and apply your metrics:

Zappos clearly analyzes a lot of data to make their contact center the best it can be. They don’t use data as their end-game. Success to Zappos isn’t meeting every KPI. Success to Zappos is happy customers. Instead of using data as an outcome, they use it to inform their decision-making to improve their customer experience.

As a supervisor, collecting data from your agent-customer interactions, your CRM, and your ticketing system can be overwhelming and hard to sift through. But, with integrated systems and an all-in-one contact center platform, you can view metrics from all your systems in unified dashboards. And you can organize the data in a way that makes sense for you and your team, so you can lead your employees to greater success.

See how Sharpen’s custom reporting tools help you use data to power better customer experiences.

To follow up, does Zappos ever need to adjust strategy? For example, if there’s a significant increase in average hold time, how would Zappos combat that?

Zappos team: The simple answer would be to figure out a way to have more people answer the phone. So, we’d either leverage internal resources or move resources and people around, or we’d hire more people.

This is why we constantly evaluate our forecasts, metrics, hiring plans, and attrition. We’ll make any and all adjustments necessary to provide the best possible experience in a responsive manner. Hold times happen to contact centers, and we understand that, but we’re very focused on meeting our service-level goals.

For phones, that means we want to answer 80 percent of calls in under 20 seconds. Any miss below 70 percent of calls answered in under 20 seconds is cause for concern. So, we figure out how we can get to a place where we don’t repeat that performance.

It doesn’t mean that we don’t fail from time to time here, but on aggregate, we always perform to our targets. Some days might not be great, but each month and year we will make sure we’re meeting our responsiveness promise to customers.

What can you do? Be responsive and flexible:

It’s good to be adaptable and flexible with your strategy. The whole reason you collect metrics is so you can learn, adapt, and find ways to get better. Take the time to look into your data and dig into what the root causes of missed metrics could be.

Like the Zappos team mentioned — sometimes leaders realize it’s not the fault of their current team when hold time is high. It might mean they need more hands on deck. Hold true to your promise of service, and adapt to meet those goals together as a team.

Which customer service channel does Zappos wish more customers would use?

Zappos team: Currently, we have email, chat, and phone call contact options. Out of those three, we’d prefer to have more people calling in and having that Zappos experience.

We only speak to roughly 4 percent of our customers via phone and we’d love to see that number go up and emails go down. Having a live person to chat with and receive great customer service is a game changer for us here at Zappos.

What can you do? Elevate the most effective channel in your service:

Today, many customers are moving away from the traditional channels of customer service, like phone. Instead, they gravitate towards channels of communication that don’t require talking on a phone call. Zappos noticed this shift as well, with only 4 percent of their customers calling in, even back in 2016.

With that in mind, it’s still important to pay attention to what Zappos noticed about their own customer experience. Phone calls are more personal and provide, for Zappos, the best customer experience that fits their brand. They prefer customers use the channel that gives them the best Zappos experience, but they still used other channels to adapt and meet the needs of their customers.

Find the channel that you see as your most effective channel of communication — press in, and refine it to serve your customers best.

Any talks about creating a Zappos chatbot?

Zappos team: We’d like to keep our point of contacts as real people. As neat as a chatbot would sound it could ruin the Zappos experience we’ve worked so hard to build.

Imagine trying to get an answer from a customer service rep, and instead, a chatbot takes over and tries to provide that same level of customer service. We believe the chatbot would simply let us down and take away from what it means to have organic engagements with our customers.

A chatbot wouldn’t hear your dog bark in the background and ask what type of dog you have or ask if you were going on vacation because you bought a suitcase. The chatbot would be rather limited in providing the same level of service we aspire to have.

What can you do? Prioritize the human touch of your contact center:

Zappos believes that human interaction is incredibly important for their customer service. Technology provides all kinds of automation tools today that save your company money and time…but tread carefully.

Although completely digitizing the customer service experience is an increasingly popular trend today, it’s important to prioritize the power of having real people in the contact center. Your customers will notice and value your service if they can talk to your agents, not just a robot, when they need an empathetic experience.

Use automation tools and bots to enhance your customer service experience and eliminate time-wasting tasks for your agents, not to replace them. Bots can help with tasks like searching for customer information in your CRM and delivering it to your agent at the right time during an interaction. Then, your customers can dedicate more time to human-to-human interactions and have information at the ready to personalize every customer interaction.

Hold true to your values and pay attention to the importance of human communication and personalization with every customer interaction.

What can we learn from Zappos’ answers?

Ultimately, Zappos’ responses are centered around one thing:  the customer. Whether it’s a 10-hour call or 3 minute, they adapt to maintain focus on their customers. They still want to be efficient and be successful. They still track metrics. But it’s not so they can maximize profits. Instead, they track metrics so they can provide the best experience possible.

Zappos’ leaders need to know their contact center weak points. They want to see how each interaction with a customer impacts the whole operation. They want to make sure their agents have the tools to serve customers well. They’re highlights a craving for real connections with customers. And they point to what it takes to build and maintain those authentic connections.

On the days Steven or Stephanie talked to a customer for 10 hours, only one metric mattered – their connection with a customer. Align with Zappos by evaluating your contact center metrics with full focus on your customers.

Where can you start to be like Zappos? See why we think you shouldn’t focus on your Average Handle Time in your contact center in this post.

In 2016, we chatted with two Zappos leaders to learn more about how they run their contact center. Today, May 23, 2019, we updated the post with new insights about what you can do to run a successful contact center like Zappos.