Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Zappets

A couple of years ago, I saw CEO of Zappo's, Tony Hsieh, on Oprah. I was completely taken with him, and have tortured friends and acquaintances since with my recollections of that interview.

Quick history: Zappo's was created by Nick Swinmurn, a motivated guy who couldn't find shoes that fit his feet. He wanted to start an internet company that sold shoes, a weird idea then to a public used to trying shoes on in a physical store. Enter Tony Hsieh. Hsieh was 25 and had recently made $265 million from an internet marketing company that he started three years earlier with his college roommate (sigh). Hsieh decided to invest in Swinmurn's idea, and eventually became the CEO. Swinmurn left when the company became successful as he was interested in new projects.

Some interesting facts:
  • Hsieh is a soft-spoken guy, who is all about company culture and customer service.
  • He has a cubicle, just like everyone else, so that he is no less accessible.
  • Hsieh hopes that by 2018, Zappo's is no longer primarily associated with shoes, but with excellent customer service.
  • No matter what job you are hired for, you must spend one month in customer training (at full salary), two weeks of which is taking phone calls. After one week, you are offered $3,000 to leave, no questions asked.
  • 97% turn down that offer.
Enter their newest marketing promotion: The Zappets.

Created to resemble actual Zappo's employees, these puppets star in commercials designed to underscore the company's commitment to customer satisfaction. Zappo's CSRs are not given scripts nor are there time limits per call and employees are encouraged to keep their offbeat personalities, all of which are clearly illustrated in the commercials. Interestingly, actors were hired to call actual CSRs with quirky scenarios (one customer wants to exchange her workout clothes for a deep fryer, another claims that she is not "ready" for a dress that she received), but the CSRs were under the impression that they were authentic calls and not material for a marketing promotion.

The Zappets are just another example of puppets being used lately in advertising. These commercials remind me a lot of Crank Yankers, and I think that they are very successful. Having quirky puppets stand in as the visual for such ridiculous audio is pretty brilliiant and almost forgives the excruciating CGI eyes that the Zappets have. What on earth were they thinking?

If you are interesting in the making of the Zappets, click here. At any rate, a big thumbs up to Zappo's.

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