What Can the Utility Industry Learn from Zappos?

By Maureen Russolo - Director of E Source Customer Experience Services

During our 2012 E Source Utility Customer Experience Conference last week, we had the fantastic opportunity to tour the Henderson, Nevada, facility of online retailer Zappos and meet with Zappos Insights staff. One might wonder what a utility can learn from Zappos and what tactics we might apply to our own customer service delivery and customer experience design. My thoughts are that we can learn a whole lot that will benefit our customers, our employees, and our bottom line.

We had the opportunity to see Zappos call center culture in action, and it was certainly a refreshing change from the typical call center environment. At Zappos, they hire for customer focus and train for technology and processes. When hiring a utility call center rep, have you ever asked questions like:

  • If every time you walked into room your theme song played, what would it be and why?
  • If you had a chance to have dinner with one person, past or present, who would it be and why?
  • Which superhero best represents you and why?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how lucky are you?

The answers to questions like these get deeper into a person’s personality and can help better assess their attitude and sense of humor.

Zappos measures average speed to answer (ASA) instead of average handle time (AHT). Employees are also encouraged to make a personal emotional connection (PEC) with the customers they serve. They even have 15 minutes per day to create, design, and send a thank you card to a customer of their choice. What positive impacts could your call center realize if you stopped focusing on AHT and focused on ASA and first contact resolution (FCR), and encouraged employees to make PECs with customers? I really like these metrics, and think it could improve both employee morale and customer satisfaction—as well as dramatically reduce repeat calls—if we shifted to the Zappos model.

Have you ever offered a newly hired call center rep $4,000 to leave the company after they’ve completed four weeks of training? Zappos does, and it’s a process worth considering to ensure that you’ve hired employees who are serious about their job and are dedicated to excelling in their new role at your utility.

Zappos doesn’t provide annual salary increases. Raises are based solely on demonstrated improvements in skill set. Employees are asked to update their resume and apply to learn a new skill. The onus for career development and education is the responsibility of the employee, not the company. I believe this is a great policy that encourages employees to own their careers and bolsters their motivation to excel.

Reevaluating your interview questions to better assess potential employees’ customer focus and attitude might just give your call center that little kick of energy you’ve been looking for! And paying an employee a few thousand dollars to leave on their terms is much cheaper than continuing to pay an unhappy employee who lacks passion for their job and doesn’t deliver excellent customer experiences.

What are your thoughts? Could these tactics help your utility increase employee morale and customer satisfaction?


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