Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.
Thank you very much;
you're only a step away from
downloading your reports.

What It Takes to Work Here: Zappos


Relay races and parting bonuses don't detract from the rigorous work.

Despite what you've heard, Zappos (AMZN) isn't all fun and games.

It's not an atmosphere of fanciful wonderment or careless frivolity. A veritable candy land where every employee wears a smile and can barely stifle a giggle. Behind the smoothie fests, Pop-a-Shot contests, and hip-hop fitness classes, the folks at Zappos are machines. Automatons with hardened exteriors, single-minded in executing a stringent order of corporate guidelines and standard protocol. In fact, to meet a Zappos employee, one would immediately feel a teeth-chattering shiver reminiscent of their first realization of one's own mortality.

Actually, that's not true.

For anyone who's dealt with the stiff and stodgy work environment where inboxes are full, neckties are mandatory, fluorescents are buzzing, and grins are seldom, the Zappos office is not just a greener pasture, it's the greener pasture. The atmosphere is loose and fun. Employees are encouraged to interact with not just the customer but also one another. And from the looks of the official Inside Zappos blog -- where things are "fun and a little weird" -- there's little surprise that Fortune rated Zappos one of the "Best Companies to Work For" over the last two years.

What is shocking, however, is how Zappos ever gets enough work done to both earn $1 billion in annual sales and achieve some of the highest customer approval ratings for any retail company.

Perhaps the answer is in Zappos' four-week Customer Training program, nicknamed the Pipeline. There, candidates undergo rigorous preparation and fierce scrutiny to pass the Zappos muster and produce the tremendous customer loyalty that the company has built up since 1999.

Pipeline team supervisor Loren Becker spoke with Minyanville about the process.

"We really make the training intense. It's really like a four-week boot camp," Becker admitted. "With all the fun, there's twice as much hard work."

From the start, there's an unwavering policy on punctuality. Over the course of four weeks at Zappos headquarters in Henderson, Nevada, candidates must arrive at 7 a.m. without exception. "There's a zero tolerance attendance policy. If they're a minute late any time during the four weeks, they will not be able to continue with the program."

And the training exercises aren't a cakewalk.

Along with team-building exercises where, for example, groups have to construct a tower out of newspaper and tape, candidates must pass a knowledge-based exam at the third-week mark with a 90% or higher. There are also call reviews where potential employees are graded on their phone and customer service skills. A minimum percentage must be hit there as well.

Becker said, "During the training, it's like a long interview. We're still responsible for making sure that they'll be a good technical fit in their jobs, as far as typing, navigating the site, placing orders, being able to follow policy and procedures. But we're also still looking to see if they'll be a good culture fit."

At Zappos, employees are required to be people persons, open to hang out after work, and yes, willing to break the rules. Pipeline team leaders ask candidates to provide a story where they went above and beyond to help a customer, even broken a company rule because they felt it was the right thing to do -- something Zappos is no stranger to.

They are also asked to rate themselves from one to 10 on how weird they think they are. "We're looking for people who are fun and a little weird, [but] we don't necessarily want a 10," Becker admitted, "because we don't want psychotics." With all due respect to the Zappos employee, the one-to-10 scale might need some recalibration.

But what happens if the candidate isn't Zappos material?

Over the four weeks, team leaders observe individual behavior and speak with the candidates that aren't displaying the attitude indicative of the brand. Becker said they are given two opportunities to recognize and correct the behavior before being let go.

But most unusual during the Pipeline training is Zappos' unprecedented bonus offer. In September 2008, Businessweek reported the astounding $2,000 offer given to employees who complete the four-week program but choose not to work at the company, leaving only the employees most excited to work at Zappos. Becker told Minyanville the offer is now not only given at the two-week mark -- halfway through the program -- but if the new employee isn't comfortable in the position after three weeks, they can leave with a parting gift of $3,000 "to thank them for giving [Zappos] a chance."

In 2008, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh said that only 2% to 3% of people actually took the offer. In 2010, Becker said, "We are probably even less than that this year. I would say our average is now between 1% and 2%." He added, "After a couple weeks at Zappos, the people who might've been questioning at day one start to fall in love with it and don't have those questions anymore."

The legions of satisfied customers will wholeheartedly agree.

New! The Stock Playbook on Minyanville provides nightly actionable trading ideas from Dave Dispennette. One recent trade was +200% in just one day! Access his portfolio and get his trading insights each night. Take a FREE 14 day trial. Learn more.
< Previous
  • 1
Next >
No positions in stocks mentioned.
Featured Videos