Joseph Michelli’s The Zappos Experience

Joseph A. Michelli (@josephmichelli) (The Michelli Experience) kindly honored my request for an advance copy of The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW (@zapposxperience) (Zappified) book (Amazon).

Based on Tony Hseih’s (@zappos) Delivering Happiness (@DHMovement) and my experiences working with clients to leverage Tribal Leadership, I was very intrigued!

The Book

At first glance, The Zappos Experience may seem very similar to Delivering Happiness, however, Tony Hsieh immediately distinguished between the two books in The Zappos Experience‘s Forward:

So how is The Zappos Experience different from Delivering Happiness, and why should you care if you’re not in the business of selling clothing and shoes online?

In all likelihood, what your business does will be very different from what Zappos does. My hope is that Delivering Happiness will help inspire the why of your business, while The Zappos Experience (along with Zappos Insights) can contribute to the how of your business.

What is Zappos and the Zappos Experience?

The book starts with two questions: What is Zappos? What is the Zappos Experience?

The book emphasizes that it “will offer you a chance to learn from a company that is changing the paradigm for how to deliver excellent service by embedding that service into its culture” while quoting Peter Jackson’s Maps of Meaning, “cultures are maps of meaning through which the world is intelligible,” and emphasizing “at Zappos, leadership has offered a ‘map of meaning’ that produces success powered by a culture of service.”

The book then briefly explores Zappos’ history and emphasizes three historical pivot points that “offer insights regarding leadership decisions and staff efforts that kept the orders rolling in and the bankers, employees and customers happy”:

  • Forging a Team with Diverse Strengths
  • The Courage to Try to Do What You Think is “Right”
  • Passion, Determination, and Humility

The book then briefly explores Zappos’ unique value proposition.

By making consistent choices to trust staff members and customers in often small but unexpected ways, the leadership at Zappos has essentially created customer wows, a loving family environment, and an enriched customer experience. Some Zappos customer communiques even sign off, “With love, The Zappos Customer Loyalty Team.” For some, “love” may seem like an odd concept in the context of business, but in the words of Peter Senge, author of the classic business book The Fifth Discipline, love is nothing more nor less than “a commitment to someone else’s growth and development.” Zappos lives that commitment to staff members, customers, and vendors alike.

Because leaders at Zappos demonstrate a commitment to the growth and development (“love”) of their company’s employees and their customers, consumers and staff return their love for Zappos through consistent referrals, positive social media chatter, and repeat business. This loyalty, resulting in 75 percent of orders each day being placed by returning customers, allows Zappos to spend less on marketing and advertising and instead invest more in truly delivering wow through service.

This resonates with my own experience of Love (in Business) and my appreciation of Starbucks.

Joseph Michelli then briefly introduces the Zappos Experience.

Building a vibrant culture, living in accordance with one’s values, and translating service directly into loyal return business are but a few of the many differentiators between Zappos and other well-intentioned companies. I have come to call the totality of these differences the “Zappos Experience.”

From my perspective, the Zappos Experience reflects a culture that is committed to impassioned service delivery, transparent communication, acceptance of differences, and weirdness — a highly playful, highly productive, and innovative business where staff members and customers become fully engaged an emotionally connected.

Then, Joseph Michelli introduces the “five core business principles” around which the book is organized (that offer “a map for your behind-the-scenes exploration of the company”) and emphasizes that “while these principles may seem fairly easy to grasp, applying them consistently may prove challenging” and “it is consistent execution that differentiates a Zappos from other well-meaning yet average businesses or mediocre individual service providers.”

  1. Serve a perfect fit.
  2. Make it effortlessly swift.
  3. Step into the personal.
  4. S T R E T C H.
  5. Play to win.

The rest of Joseph Michelli’s book explores “how Zappos can help you zap your leadership, your culture, and your service, be it professional or personal, to the next level!”

Serve a Perfect Fit

This section opens with the following quote:

Coming together is a beginning
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
— Henry Ford

This section, “Serve a Perfect Fit,” focuses on “how Zappos selects and orients for a service culture.” “The leadership at Zappos views culture strength as the foundation for employee engagement and, ultimately, for customer loyalty.” “Zappos has, in essence, made a priority of ways to ‘serve a perfect fit’ between its purpose and its people.” “By building a tight employee community, Zappos has developed a platform for outstanding service.”

  • Chapter 2, “It All Comes Back to Culture,” focuses on “how the leaders at Zappos chose and uncovered the core values that underpin their company.”
  • Chapter 3, “Culture Should Be a Verb”, focuses on how Zappos approaches “new hire orientation and on-boarding”.

Notices the emphasis on “service culture” versus merely “culture”; that is, a culture that is always in service of something beyond itself. Similar to Greenleaf’s “servant leadership”, this could readily be termed “servant cultureship“.

Notice the notion of culture as a platform wherein an engaged employee community fosters customer loyalty. Tribal Leadership emphasizes that leadership involves synchronizing culture and strategy naturally, which essentially involves fostering fitness between purpose and people.

Notice the emphasis of “core values” and “on-boarding” or culture (verb) or “culturing“.

Far too many so-called leaders are challenged when focusing on culture because their notion of culture is respectfully “self-serving” (internally focused) versus a “service culture” (externally focus), thus is seems far less relevant to their business objectives and goals.

Make it Effortlessly Swift

This section opens with the following quote:

The more effort customers must
put forth in a service interaction,
the less likely they are to be loyal.
— Jeffrey Henning

This section, “Make it Effortlessly Swift,” focuses on “how Zappos delivers wow through service without even having to make customer service personal.” “The leadership at Zappos has aspired to a more potent transformational and emotional service outcome, namely, to deliver happiness.”

  • Chapter 4, “Less Effort, More Customers,” focuses on “how Zappos makes all aspects of the customer experience as effortless as possible.”
  • Chapter 5, “The Ticket to the Big Service Dance: Velocity, Knowledge, Recovery and Surprise,” focuses on “how Zappos instills a sense of urgency into service delivery.”

Notice the emphasis on “transformational and emotional” outcomes that form effortless customer experiences delivered with urgency.

Step into the Personal

This section opens with the following quote:

The companies that survive
longest are the ones that work out
what they uniquely can give to the
world — not just growth or money
but their excellence, their respect
for others, or their ability to make
people happy. Some call those
things a soul.
— Charles Handy

This section, “Step into the Personal,” focuses on how “legendary and beloved companies seek personal, enriched experiences that are easily remembered and readily shared with others” while other brands “rely on operational excellence in service delivery to garner respect and differentiate themselves from less effective competitors”.

  • Chapter 6, “More than a Wallet with Legs,” focuses on how “leaders foster an environment of authentic connections and real relationships with customers.”
  • Chapter 7, “Connections at All Levels,” focuses on how leaders “openly and consistently provide feedback that helps staff members deliver personalized service to customers, vendors, and even non-customers.”

Notices the emphasis on “personal, enriched experiences” that are memorable and shareable versus merely “operational excellence”. Notice the emphasis on “connections” & “relationships” that are “authentic” & “real” being fostered by consistent “feedback”.


This section opens with the following quote:

If you want to be happy, set a goal
that commands your thoughts,
liberates your energy, and inspires
your hopes.
— Andrew Carnegie

This section, “S T R E T C H.,” focuses on “what businesses can achieve by being discontented, knowledge seeking, and unwilling to fall in love with the way things are or the way things have always been.”

  • Chapter 8, “Zappos University,” focuses on “how Zappos stretches staff members to be subject-matter experts, better people, and future organizational leaders.”
  • Chapter 9, “Beyond Shoes,” focuses on “how Zappos has stretched its brand elasticity well beyond its original product line into broader merchandising and even corporate leadership training.”

Notice the emphasis on “stretching” both staff members and the brand as fostered by being “unwilling to fall in love with the way things are”.

Far too many organizations fall in love with the way things are and no long seek to stretch.

Play to Win

This section opens with the following quote:

The master in the art of living makes
little distinction between his work and
his play, his labor and his leisure, his
mind and his body, his information and
his recreation. … He simply pursues his
vision of excellence at whatever he does,
leaving others to decide whether he is
working or playing. To him he’s always
doing both.
— James Michener

This section, “Play to win,” focuses on how “leaders see work and play as being intertwined” — “play is a powerful tool for alignment and social cohesion.”

  • Chapter 10, “Play Well,” focuses on “how Zappos infuses a spirit of play on daily, monthly, and extended timelines throughout the workplace.”
  • Chapter 11, “R.O.F.L.,” focuses on “how Zappos has transformed fun into a culture that is far from frivolous.” R.O.F.L. commonly stands for “rolling on the floor laughing” but in this Chapter it stands for “Return On Fun Lasts”.

Notice the emphasis on joy or enjoyment, that is, “finding joy in”! Mere Work and Play are different but may be intertwined, specifically, it’s the “spirit of play” that makes “work” “fun”.

Fundamentally, if you are not enjoying work, quite simply, stop working and ask “what’s missing”!

In conclusion

The book ends with one question: What’s your leadership legacy?

Zappos is no longer in the shoe business; it is in the happiness business! Its leaders became passionate about a goal that transcended products or processes. Those leaders shifted their attention from business success to transformative objectives and, in the end, elevated their significance and their legacy.

So what’s your leadership legacy statement? Go ahead and write it down — but, more important, live it! If you do, you truly will understand the transformational power of the Zappos Experience.

At the end of my Delivering Happiness blog post, I suggested if you want to understand the “Zappos Experience” — how Zappos has achieved greatness — read and reflect on Tony Hseih’s (@zapposDelivering Happiness (@DHMovement), however, I now further suggest if you want to delve deeper, read and reflect on Joseph A. Michelli’s (@josephmichelli) The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW (@zapposxperience) — a treasure trove of practical wisdom!


2 thoughts on “Joseph Michelli’s The Zappos Experience

  1. @josephmichelli: @SAlhir Sinan your analysis and elevation of concepts in @thezapposexperience book are astounding! WOW

  2. @josephmichelli: @SAlhir Your support MATTERS! You have helped the book reach the Inc Magazine bestseller list on launch AMAZING

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