Zappos is a company that was built and operates on challenging common wisdom and the status quo. Both Zappos and its parent company, Amazon, are widely regarded as one of the most customer-centric businesses globally.
It may seem that it would be easy to act as a customer-advocate in such a customer obsessed environment, but there are strong initiatives in place to ensure that Zappos employees are equipped to understand and serve their customers, without the traditional limitations that organisational boundaries can impose.
We spoke to Alex Genov, Head of Customer Research, Zappos (USA) about the Zappos approach. It’s an interesting story of cross-functional and anti-silo employee interactions, unique CX research methodologies, and an entrenched obsession with understanding the people who are its customers.
Organisational Silos Don’t Serve Customer Centricity
To ensure that a customer-focussed mindset permeates and drives the entire organisation, Zappos has applied an innovative approach to organisational structure.
Zappos employees work in a self-organised environment, without formal titles or a rigid and static org chart. Instead, individuals at Zappos organise around work they are passionate about and which aligns with the top company priorities. For example, the Customer Research group at Zappos started an initiative called Voice of the Best Customer. This grass-roots initiative was transformed into a working group, which later received a budget to pursue customer-centric research programs. The work of this group informs the whole of Zappos and is not owned by a specific corporate silo or a manager of a functional area.
“A flexible organisational structure based on a company culture of customer focus, innovation, and humility helps to ensure that organisational boundaries do not interfere with a holistic customer understanding. We make sure that when planning customer research, we collaborate as widely as possibly, understanding the needs of many potential stakeholders. We also ensure that in many large projects, different parts of the company share in the project costs and then, in turn, benefit from the insights. In addition, we keep a dynamic platform for documenting and sharing not only the research results but also the raw data. In that way we strive to be transparent and to democratise customer research,” says Alex.
The Ultimate CX Research Methodology Mix
The Zappos approach to customer research is to use a wide and complementary set of methodologies to gain a holistic perspective of their customers.
“Once we realise that the final object of our understanding are real people with real behaviors, emotions, motivations and goals, we will recognise that our customer research must have a common business objective and a coordinated and complementary set of methods across the whole organisation,” says Alex.
At the highest level, the key is to combine transactional (big) data, self-report customer data, and deep-dive qualitative customer data.
With the above as a guide, Zappos uses a mix of the following CX research methodologies:
- Standard self-report surveys
- Behavior-based surveys (e.g. Choice-based Conjoined, MaxDiff, etc.)
- Non-verbal measures of behavior and emotion (e.g. eye tracking, facial recognition of emotion, etc.)
- Usability testing
- Brand research
- In-depth customer interviews
- Home visits
5 Tips to Foster True Customer Empathy in Your Company
“What I love most about my job is the combination of the creativity and science. I do believe that this balance, combined with real empathy towards customers, leads to the best customer understanding and ultimately to the best business results,” says Alex.
He believes there are five guiding principles to apply if you’d like to move your company towards truly great customer centricity:
- Be customer-centric. Don’t be technology-centric.
- Understand the person, not the “user” or the “shopper”
- Break down silos when it comes to customer understanding
- Inform the business as a whole
- Develop a company culture which enables customer centricity
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About the Author
Alex Genov, Head of Customer Research, Zappos.com.
Alex is an experienced customer research professional who applies his Experimental Social Psychology background and his passion for research, design, and innovation to solving important customer and business problems. His professional goal is to help teams create remarkable products and services which make people’s lives easier and more enjoyable.
Currently Alex is leading Customer Research for the Zappos Family of Companies. In previous positions, he was responsible for research and usability of the products and services for companies like TurboTax (Intuit), State Farm Insurance, and the Active Network. He has over 15 years of relevant experience – 5 years of academic research and over 10 years of customer research in the software industry.
Alex received his PhD in Experimental Social Psychology from Clark University. His areas of research include: defining and measuring emotions, individual differences, usability, and consumer segmentation.
This article was originally published on Customer Experience & Tech Fest Australia blog.