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Posted on: Monday, 08 June 2015 by Rajiv Popat

Why does every call center have to sound, look and feel like all other call centers? Why does ever support call from practically all companies out there, has to look, feel and sound like the support call from all other companies?

When Tony Hsieh started out with Zappos the idea was to build call centers with no scripts and empowered employees who would go out of their way to help customers even  in situations where they really didn't have to help. In his book delivering happiness Tony explains the power of having something as simple as a support team that would really support customers and be nice to them:

A lot of people may think it’s strange that an Internet company is so focused on the telephone, when only about 5 percent of our sales happen through the telephone. In fact, most of our phone calls don’t even result in sales. But what we’ve found is that on average, every customer contacts us at least once sometime during his or her lifetime, and we just need to make sure that we use that opportunity to create a lasting memory.

The majority of phone calls don’t result in an immediate order. Sometimes a customer may be calling because it’s her first time returning an item, and she just wants a little help stepping through the process. Other times, a customer may call because there’s a wedding coming up this weekend and he wants a little fashion advice. And sometimes, we get customers who call simply because they’re a little lonely and want someone to talk to.

In his book, Tony goes on to describe the kind of powerful experiences truly empowered support staff can create in the minds of the customers:

I’m reminded of a time when I was in Santa Monica, California, a few years ago at a Skechers sales conference.

After a long night of bar-hopping, a small group of us headed up to someone’s hotel room to order some food. My friend from Skechers tried to order a pepperoni pizza from the room-service menu, but was disappointed to learn that the hotel we were staying at did not deliver hot food after 11:00 PM. We had missed the deadline by several hours.

In our inebriated state, a few of us cajoled her into calling Zappos to try to order a pizza. She took us up on our dare, turned on the speakerphone, and explained to the (very) patient Zappos rep that she was staying in a Santa Monica hotel and really craving a pepperoni pizza, that room service was no longer delivering hot food, and that she wanted to know if there was anything Zappos could do to help.

The Zappos rep was initially a bit confused by the request, but she quickly recovered and put us on hold. She returned two minutes later, listing the five closest places in the Santa Monica area that were still open and delivering pizzas at that time.

Now, truth be told, I was a little hesitant to include this story because I don’t actually want everyone who reads this book to start calling Zappos and ordering pizza. But I just think it’s a fun story to illustrate the power of not having scripts in your call center and empowering your employees to do what’s right for your brand, no matter how unusual or bizarre the situation.

As for my friend from Skechers? After that phone call, she’s now a customer for life.

You would think that Zappos succeeding with this innovative idea for support would prompt other companies to step up and change their support centers; but in the larger scheme of things, support still remains a cookie cutter solution based industry.

I continue to be absolutely amazed at how really small startups who can support their customers with two cell phones; go out of their way to setup up these elaborate automated voice systems which leads their customers through countless 'Press X to do Y' options.

I continue to be amazed how not one support center actually has a well defined way to route your call to the same executive instead of having to repeat your problem / story to a different executive every single time you call up regarding the same incident.

What made Zappos support work was that it wasn't cookie cutter. It was improvised. But improvisation is hard. Improvisation takes serious effort. And improvisation is risky. Cookie cutter support however is easy; cookie cutter is well established; and cookie cutter is safe... which by the way are  exactly the qualities that make it, risker than risky

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