Like most men my age (37) I spend a large percentage of my day bemoaning the fact that banks, utility companies, online retailers – in fact, all large businesses without exception – value their profits over my time and happiness. These organisations seem quite happy to let me waste 20 minutes listening to automated messages (at considerable cost to me) so they they can save the £1.20 it would have cost a minimum-wage telesales assistant to answer my call and deal with my query.
Now – most of us know the story of Zappos: the business that harnessed word of mouth (WOM) to increase sales and, in due course, get bought by Amazon for around $1 billion. And most of us focus on the fact that Tony Hsieh, the Zappo’s CEO used social media to drive this phenomenal success. True – he required his staff to have Twitter accounts, published thousands of product videos on YouTube and used his own social media celebrity status to amazing effect… But the moral of this story isn’t really about social media at all. It’s about us.
The reason Zappo’s succeeded was that Tony Hsieh (who’s just published a book called Delivering Happiness) turned the company on its head and, instead of focusing on the bottom line, demanded that that ultimate gauge of success should be “customer happiness”. This wasn’t some latent hippy tendency or the extravagances of a billionaire CEO, this was hard business logic. The management team at Zappos knew that happy people tell their friends – and that social media makes that process extremely easy (often almost inadvertent). They also knew that, compared to 99% of big businesses, it’s not that hard to offer stand-out customer services these days: all you have to do is listen to us, be nice and solve our problems. Now, who would have ever thought of that?!
What Zappo’s did is the complete reverse of what most large corporates are still doing today. It doesn’t have to be this way – 80% of the UK population has a social media account and 40% of us use Facebook on a regular basis – the potential to harness WOM is waiting for any corporate brave enough to attempt it. What are they waiting for? Perhaps it’s related to the warning that my friend Mark Schmulen (GM Social Media at Constant Contact) issues to businesses planning to use social media to promote their products, “If you don’t have a good product, don’t try it. There’s no cure for sucking“.