Fast Company

Zappos' Marketing Chief: "Customer Service is the New Marketing!"

In this Brand Innovator Spotlight, Aaron Magness shares what brought him to Zappos, his five principles of marketing and how your company can improve its customer service right now.

Aaron MagnessAaron Magness has worked in Business Development in retail for 10 years. His career has taken him through sales, operations and all the grunt work it takes to make his team successful. He joined Zappos with a primary focus in business development; however, his role has grown to include oversight of Brand Marketing, PR and Social Media as well as Business Development.

Brandon Gutman: What attracted you to Zappos?

Aaron Magness: The mentality. Hire great people, trust and empower those that you hire and don't be a bottle neck. Zappos isn't big on giving assignments and specific tasks. There is an overarching direction and discussion, but the actual execution is up to the team. I'm here to provide support and guidance, but not to get in the way and micro-manage. This allows freedom of interpretation and greater focus on what "marketing" is really about.

What is marketing really about?

There are five principles that I try to focus on in everything that has to do with marketing:

  • Customer service is the new marketing. The days of dictating your brand to the public are long gone. There is so much access to information; the customer is actually dictating your brand to you.
  • Communicate with your customers, don’t market at them. Customers get bombarded with marketing messages every day (practically every second). Find ways to interact with them. Discussions drive loyalty, not one way messaging.
  • Don’t try to be interesting, be interested. I first heard this phrase from our CEO, Tony Hsieh, and thought it was great. It is really spot on. A lot of companies try to launch a really creative campaign, but lack the follow up to the brand promise. Your campaign should highlight what your brand promise is, not try to invent one.
  • Try to WOW at every interaction. This goes for working with employees, vendors and customers. Personal relationships and interactions drive everything. You need to capitalize on them. This is obviously something that is very true and important at Zappos. I don’t think I every put it into words until I worked here, but the importance and implications are great.
  • Your culture will dictate your success. This goes back to building your team. Hire great people, treat them like adults and let them do great work. The rest should come naturally on its own.
  • What makes you care so much about the customer?

    I care about the customer because I want people to be treated correctly. Sadly, in today’s world, the difference between poor customer service and great customer service is so small. Little things go so far. I’m not asking for the world, but I want a customer to feel that the person they’re interacting with actually appreciates them being there. I want the customer to know that their purchase is helping that company. I want the customer to feel as though the person they’re working with actually enjoys what they do. These aren’t huge asks. It seems to be pretty basic.

    How do you breed better customer service?

    I’m really inspired by positivity. This can take many forms and isn’t the same for everyone, but it really stands out for me. I think it’s contagious and people build off it. It helps in personal areas the same as business. You can’t provide great customer service with a negative attitude or culture. My goal is to be as positive as I can, and hope that has an impact on those around me. I choose to surround myself with positive people and you tend to find that the majority of “success stories” generally have a great attitude about life. It all comes down to the Golden Rule. It’s not difficult to understand and we all have it in us.

    Why is the culture so positive at Zappos?

    The great thing about Zappos is that everyone is empowered, encouraged and expected to push themselves, their teams and the company to succeed. I just try to speak openly and push for what I think is right. Zappos is a company that embraces this mentality. If I don’t agree with something, I know it’s ok for me to speak up. And, if my team doesn’t agree with me, they know that they can speak up. It’s amazing how far you can go with mutual trust and respect.

    What can companies start doing right now to improve customer service?

    They first need to break down the us vs. them mentality. We’re all consumers/customers. What would we want? What would stand out to us? How would we want to be treated? I know that I don’t want to be marketed at with some dumbed down message or something I can easily see is less than the truth. Understand metrics, but don’t get too caught up in the weeds. Push for improvements, change and advancement of the business. Don’t be afraid to fail. If you’re scared, get a dog.

    What is your secret to remaining innovative?

    Innovation is interesting because it can take so many forms. I’m trying to surround myself with a great team that can make decisions and drive the business. Then, I want to be able to challenge them to push for more improvement. I try to read and learn everything I can about marketing, retail, and advertising. There is so much information out there, if you don’t learn something every day, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. And, I want to make sure I’m sharing that with my team. We need to make sure we don’t get complacent. Let’s take our learnings and improve, constantly. If we rest, we’ll be passed by the next more hungry business.

    Brandon Gutman is a Founding Partner of FOCi Group, a Digital Brand Management™ consultancy building and optimizing digital practices for the Fortune 500 community.  Follow Brandon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brandongutman.

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2 Comments

  • Philippe Gadeyne

    Interesting point but isn't is curious that all these "new" things are actually old fashioned values, the very old fashioned values companies thought they did not need to follow since they were able to drown the "noise" under a deluge of messages carried by mass media. Then came social networks and the noise could not be drown anymore and companies once again have to listen and engage as they used to do way back when business was local, opinions counted and word of mouth could make or destroy a company, a brand or a product.
    Zappos understood that early on.
    Philippe Gadeyne
    Social Media Trailblazers
    http://www.facebook.com/Social...
    https://twitter.com/SMTrailbla...
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/pga...

  • Christine Maingard

    Yes - couldn't agree with you more! In today's competitive environment where so many companies try to get potential customers' attention with meaningless messages, truly great companies know how to communicate with respect and genuine interest. It is not only that every customer interaction counts but what 'goes on behind the scenes' is equally important. This of course is all about a positive organisational culture where every single employee understands that their raison d'etre is the customer. It always has to be a win-win situation and employees must understand who they are serving and how every single day provides opportunity for further improvement in customer service.
    If branding is a thing of the past, so is product differentiation. Customers will keep returning when there is service excellence. Service excellence is about delighting the customer through meeting their expectations beyond that offered by the competition.

    Dr Christine Maingard
    Author of "Think Less, Be More"
    http://www.thinklessbemore.com