Last week, as part of the Creative Social in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to tour Zappos. As you likely know, Zappos is widely praised for its customer service and work environment (recently being voted #6 in the country by CNN Money).
My personal experience with Zappos has been impressive. For example, upon hearing the company had created a book on its culture, I shot a note to their CEO, Tony Hsieh, asking where I could get a copy. I heard back from Tony within an hour, and the book was on my doorstep within 2 days. So yeah, impressive.
Wandering through the headquarters in Not Las Vegas (that's a default name for most cities in Nevada), I saw a lot of cultural touchpoints that clearly feed into the way they service customers. The call center has no scripts, and one customer's call once lasted 8 hours. (If you think that's BS, call them. Seriously, about anything. 1-800-927-7671.) I saw the CEO's desk, which was set amid all the other workers' desks. They have a person on staff who helps employees achieve their goals - whether they be professional or personal. And there was signage all over the walls celebrating the Core Value of the Month.
In short, there were plenty of things to love. But something interesting happened by the end of the tour.
As we went from section to section, each department had their own way to greet us as we walked by. Some rang bells, some sang, some insisted we scan a QR Code before putting on their chicken masks. (I assume you think I'm kidding here, which is why I've included this picture. Apologies for doubting me are now being accepted.)
And the longer it went on, it felt like we were journalists on a government-sponsored tour of North Korea. That is, it felt like a front. It felt like everyone who worked there feared becoming Joanna from Office Space. (If you have better things to do with your life than memorize Office Space, the relevant scene can be viewed here.)
The fact is, Zappos still delivers remarkable customer service. We were treated most kindly. And I'm told their merchandise is great too, though being the fashion unconscious person I am, I can't confirm that.
But as we left the headquarters, we left with the belief that some companies, like some family members, are best admired from a distance.