All new employees, from programmers to executives, are trained to answer calls; Hsieh wants everyone in the building to understand the rudiments of customer service. And the company has another surprise: After a few weeks of training, they offer new hires $3,000 to quit. Not many people take the offer, D’Amico-Snyder says.
Make it through training — “incubation,” in Zappos-speak — and you’re in with a growing company that treats its employees like family. Figures from the quarterly meeting state that Zappos’ sales grew 39 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 over 2009. They passed the $1 billion mark in sales in 2008, and they were acquired by Amazon.com the next year in a deal worth $1.2 billion the day it closed. Zappos recently signed a deal with the city of Las Vegas to take over the current city hall in downtown when the city moves out in 2012. The wheels are already turning in Hsieh’s head; he envisions seeding the moribund area with bands to build an Austin, Texas–like music scene, a private school for employees’ kids, a greenhouse where Zappos people can grow their own veggies and maybe even a dorm to encourage his people to live, work and play in the city’s struggling urban core.
Employees get free health, dental and vision coverage; financial and legal assistance; merchandise discounts; even free food in the cafeteria. (It’s common for newbies to gain weight when they start, D’Amico-Snyder says. There’s even a name for it: The Zappos 20.) The company debuted at No. 23 on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list in 2009; it moved up to No. 6 in 2011.
Then there’s the office itself, perhaps one of the most eye-popping collections of effluvia ever assembled in a place of business. Virtually every square inch of wall space — and some of the floor — is adorned with something. There are balloons, streamers, posters and ribbons; inflatable bananas dangling from the ceiling; toy cars lined up on top of cubicle walls. There are puppets and peace signs and pictures of fish taped to the walls. One cubicle has a miniature wrestling ring set up where you’d expect to see a computer monitor; another has been toilet-papered like a house that stiffed trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Communal conviviality is the rule. One department blasts “Eye of the Tiger” and breaks out Shake Weights every time a tour goes by; another rings cowbells. Parades and costume parties are common. The team that does Zappos’ in-house blogs and videos works from inside a cluster of desks done up like an old Volkswagen bus.
An atmosphere like that might not seem out of place in Silicon Valley, but this is a call center in the Las Vegas Valley where workers start at $11 an hour. And make no mistake: It’s a job. Call-center employees took almost 163,779 calls in February, answering them in an average of 10 seconds.
They’re busy, but they’re not robots. There are no scripts to read, no up-selling, no time limits on the phone. The Zappos record for a single customer call currently stands at eight hours, two minutes.
“Sure, it looks like a fun party, like Disneyland. And it can be,” says call-center lead Josephine Revello. “But the bottom line is we are here for customers.”
For Hsieh, the office clutter simply means that his “work/life integration” philosophy is a success. “In a lot of other companies, you are a different person at home on weekends then you are in the office on Mondays,” he says. “But here, a lot of the people talk about how it is the first place they feel comfortable being themselves. That is where their creativity shines. It is where the great ideas come out.”