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Zappos Employees Reveal What Customers Really Call Them About

Throughout its 20 years, Zappos.com has made customer service a priority, starting with its call center.

As part of the company’s unique culture, all employees work on the customer service desk during their four weeks of new-hire training and also help out during the busy holiday season — even CEO Tony Hsieh.

Below are a few memorable stories from the call center.

Jeanne Markel
Adviser to the CEO
Years at Zappos: 13
“One year, Tony Hsieh and I were doing our holiday helper calls right next to each other. Tony gets very interested in things that other people may find obscure, and he had been speaking to a guy in Florida who raised cows and planted Christmas trees. Somehow the customer volunteered that one of the things he has to do is castrate the cows. I don’t know the details, but I’m in the middle of emailing a coupon to the HR director of The Downtown Project and half listening to Tony tell me about this call. And then five minutes later, I get an email back from the HR director, saying, ‘What are you doing over there?’ Normally, when I send a coupon, I write: ‘Happy shopping,’ but I had literally written, ‘Happy castration.’ There was no easy way to explain it. It was mortifying.”

Ameen Kazerouni
Lead data scientist
Years at Zappos: 4
“One of the coolest experiences I had was, a customer was going to be acting in a play and called [for help with his costumes]. I said, ‘Listen, I’m an engineer/math person; I shouldn’t be picking shoes for a play.’ And the guy was like, ‘No, let’s go through it.’ So we went through the play scene by scene. In my head, I thought, ‘He’s definitely going to return these shoes when the play is done.’ But I didn’t care — we had fun. He ordered the shoes. I hope he kept them. We put in some good effort.”

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Karrie Meiklereid
Lead buyer
Years at Zappos: 13
“I recall 13 years ago that somebody called and wanted directions to the Converse outlet in Florida or something like that. There was no desire to shop or ask a question related to Zappos, but we help the customer with whatever they need, so I helped them find where they were going. I guess I was their GPS before GPS was everywhere.”

Steve Bautista
Head of charity & employee engagement
Years at Zappos: 9
“About two years ago, I spent about half my holiday helper time with one person. She was in New York, and we started out talking about the weather and then about Broadway shows that she liked. I don’t think she even bought anything at the end of it, but it was just fun. That’s what makes our customers special, because they’ll sit on the phone with us and talk about the most random things — things that mean something to them. And then we build that connection with our experiences.”

Zappos for Good Steve Bautista
Steve Bautista, head of Zappos for Good.
CREDIT: PATRICK GRAY

Mike Normart
Senior director of women’s footwear
Years at Zappos: 16
“One of the ways that I found out [we needed more] wide-calf boots on the site was because when I was on the phone with customers during the holidays, I took three or four calls — out of probably 10 or 12 — that were about wide-calf boots. The rest were for Ugg probably — it was the holidays — but a lot of them were for that, and it was one of those moments where I realized, ‘Wow, people are really looking for this, and this is an opportunity for us.’”

Stephanie Van Hasselt
Customer Loyalty Team member
Years at Zappos: 4
“I hold the record for the longest customer service call — over 10 hours. It was at about 9 a.m. in April 2017. I answered the phone and instantly heard the customer’s thick New York accent. I grew up in New York state, so whenever I talk to my East Coast people, I get super excited. She needed to do a return that was right at its 365-day mark for our return policy. Her credit card was no longer valid, so I said, ‘Instead of waiting for a check that could take 4 to 6 weeks, we can exchange it for something different.’ From there, we started shopping around for shoes for her daughter, and then I brought up New York, and we talked about everything: food, ‘Friends’ the TV show, which was my favorite, her kids, who were both home sick. She had me on speakerphone the whole time and was doing household chores. It was so easy and natural; it felt like long lost best friends. We’re still Facebook friends, but we haven’t met in person yet.”

Megan Petrini
Remote onboarding strategist
Years at Zappos: 13
“[When we had a Canada business], customers who spoke French would call in, and thankfully, 99% of them spoke English. But once I had a man call, and he started speaking French. I tried to respond in French, but my accent was so bad — I barely passed my classes in high school and college. Finally, he interrupted me halfway through and said, ‘I speak English.’ I was so relieved. So we went through the whole call, and at the end, he said, ‘OK, now I want you to call me back, and we’re going to redo the whole thing in French so you can practice.’ And we did!”

Zappos Megan Petrini
Megan Petrini, remote onboarding strategist at Zappos.
CREDIT: PATRICK GRAY

Christa Foley
Senior director of brand vision & culture
Years at Zappos: 14
“I was talking to a customer, and a parade was coming by in the office, and I started to get really anxious because it was loud and I was having trouble hearing the person. I was worried the guy was going to get pissed that this is happening. I apologized and tried to get back to his order, but he kept stopping me, saying, ‘What? There’s a parade? Why?’ So we ended up having this long conversation. He was super intrigued about what we were doing. And for me, that was a good learning moment to just be who you are.”

John Bunch
Lead organizational designer
Years at Zappos: 10
“I taught high school for a year coming out of college, and once I had a customer on the phone who was from the same area where I taught high school. We chatted about all the goings-on in that town in Florida. It was just a cool little connection. One of the things that we try to put first is the personal, emotional connection between us and our customers.”

Aaron Triche
Lead buyer
Years at Zappos: 14
“One woman called and was looking for a pair of heels for a cocktail party, and never in a million years did I think that for work, I would be sitting on the phone with a woman I didn’t know talking about heels for two hours. We ultimately settled on a pair, and they were very nice. But that was a pretty memorable experience, talking about heels when all I ever wear are sneakers.”

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