Unleashing the magic potion of Zappos’ employee experience.

Whether you are an entry-level associate or a C-level executive, this company looks for your sense of weirdness and bids goodbye to you if you are a culture misfit. Yet, it thrives to be incredible at employee experience. Well, if you’re reading this article and are thinking of giving cadence to your employee onboarding, this company’s strikingly unconventional onboarding program will help you change the way you look at it. 

Insane? Fanatical? Maybe. 


Zappos, besides being a shoe selling company, has consistently made it to the Forbes “Best employee experience”, about ten times in a row.  Being one of the largest acquisitions of the e-commerce giant — Amazon, Zappos was acquired by the former in 2009 for its unwavering customer service. From giving a sympathetic gesture to grieving customers, to a record-breaking 10-hour customer call, we can certainly say that Zappos is a company that is maniacally obsessed with customer service. Simply put, Zappos does not just serve but “WOW” its customers. 

Why creating employee success from day one is pivotal?

“Only happy employees make happy customers! “ – Some dude on the internet.

Onboarding is when you can foster a sense of belongingness into your employees and help them get rid off the ambiguity right from day one. Zappos is a little different when it comes to onboarding new employees. Apparently, Zappos seizes this opportunity to teach its new hires about its customer philosophy and hence get them on the same page. This helps catalyze the process of employees developing a deep connection with the culture and core values of the company. By getting to know what they are expected of, providing clarity on the core values that the company lives by, employees are likely to be happy at work thus embracing the culture. This gives an ample amount of time for the new hires to determine if they will be able to find their feet in the company even before they could take their seats. 

“At any point during or after the onboarding, if an employee feels like a misfit in the company, he/she can grab the walking money, which is $4000 and walk away with it. But remember, there’s no coming back!


Deriving customer service from  unwavering employee experience

Once prospective candidates accept an offer at Zappos,  their first day of induction involves a  training program for the Customer Loyalty Team (CLT) which is 4 weeks long, and every single hire goes through that training. From the accountants to the baristas– as part of the onboarding process–every one of them learns to make a Personal Emotional Connection (PEC) to the people they interact with. The goal is quite comprehensive: make sure that every employee understands the customers’ requirements and hence anyone in the company is good enough to take calls in case they are running short of associates. The idea is, for example, when the developers go through this training and are forced to use the systems and tools they created for the call center, they might begin noticing opportunities for improvement. So, the developers would finish their training and then go back to their usual desks and start building efficiencies in their tools to make it easier for call center employees to do their jobs.


“It is easier to get into Harvard than getting into Zappos” says, a Zappos Spokesperson. She also claims that investing in onboarding and training has made a great difference at Zappos.


Why Zappos takes onboarding so seriously?

When Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos graduated out of college, he joined Oracle. But soon he found himself not caring much about the corporate culture. He started his own company LinkExchange with his friends where he could easily hire his friends and friends of friends for work. As the company expanded, he found it difficult to hire people with his own mindset and that of his friends. To hunt out people who were both technically and culturally fit was a real challenge. It has been inferred that there was a time when Hsieh himself found it hard to get himself to work in the mornings.

Hsieh principally believed when companies focus on work-life balance, they forget to focus on work-life integration. Especially, if employees spend so much time at work, they better enjoy the time they’re spending there and the people that they’re with.

So, the CEO’s take on hiring someone always relied on one question – “Is this someone I would choose to hang out with or grab a drink with….if we weren’t in business together? If the answer is no, then we wouldn’t hire them.”

“Is this someone I would choose to hang out with or grab a drink with….if we weren’t in business together? If the answer is no, then we wouldn’t hire them.”


The sequel to happy onboarding

#1 — When the holacracy game worked right! 

Employees at Zappos feel truly empowered with the holacracy business model adopted by Hseih to make it a great place to work. A great example would be where you could see a cab driver at Zappos taking the front desk as well. While the whole aim is not just to flatten the organization and do away with hierarchy, it is also to get things done quickly. Accidentally, if you’re an employee or a prospective employee at Zappos, remember to be polite with their drivers. Hsieh says that the team would ask the driver if the person was nice. So if an applicant wasn’t nice to the driver who picked them up at the airport, they won’t be hired. You never know if the person picking you up is just a cab driver or a brand evangelist. 

Fun fact: As I was writing this article, I wanted to include a row of fun facts only to realize later that everything about this company is fun. Nothing less, maybe more!

#2 — Times when the employees go out of their way to onboard their new folks


It is evident that the company has a brimming culture of energy among the insiders so much that there was an instance when the employees ceremoniously present the new hire with birthday gifts (a set of copper shot glasses with ”Zappos” engraved on them, and drumroll, a take-out packet of soy sauce) when it was her first day at work.

#3 — Fostering a sense of judgemental-free trust

To foster this sense of ownership, Zappos encourages its employees to bring their full selves to work by letting them decorate their desks, come in casual wear, etc. They tend to bring up a lot of marketing ideas at a bar when they are sipping a drink such as a porta-party one. Imagine, who even carries out such an outlandish marketing campaign for their business? But Zappos fosters trust in employees so much that they feel safe to open up and offer ideas like this. Zappos lets its employees have that level of creative freedom.

#4 — Onboarding creativity along with the employees

Once, in new hire training, each Zapponian was tasked to come up with an idea or activity using Zappos’ 10 Core Values and present their project to the rest of the company in a culture science fair. 

Fresh-faced Zapponians were able to come up with ideas like “Mappos,” an app to help new hires know their way around the campus and engage with current employees.

The matchless work and business culture at Zappos has even led them to share their insights into the world through training, events, tours and more. Check  “Zapposinsights” to know more.  

#5 — Sending out happiness surveys

Zappos sends out surveys to its employees with questions as unlikely as whether they see their co-workers as peers or family, if they see any meaning to the role or if they feel the company has much larger goals than making profits etc.. the teams then break it down department wise and work it out.

Taking inspiration from the roots of Zappos

If there’s one thing we need to learn from Zappos, it’d be the art of striking a balance between both the employer and employee happiness. Besides setting benchmarks and frequent check-ins on the new employees, it is imperative to embrace your new employees’ true nature as well because it adds to the team dynamics. 

In the cultural fit interview, there’s always one question where the interviewer would ask the candidate to rate their weirdness on a scale of 10. In fact, the CEO, himself would stand out a little weird in a room full of CEOs. In 2010, as an April Fools’ Day prank, Hsieh announced that Zappos was suing Walt Disney Company for misleading the public by calling Disneyland ‘the happiest place on Earth’. Clearly, Hsieh argued, Zappos is.

Remember? I asked if you’re a little weird at the beginning of this article? This is exactly why I did. When your employees tend to be a little fun and weird, your customers might likely remember them. And, Zappos lives by this rule right from the day one of an employee.  

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