Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 1 of 4

After interviewing Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh  and seeing the company’s HQ outside of Las Vegas, I knew I wanted to learn more about the nuts and bolts and day-to-day operations of Zappos. To get this information, I spoke to Rob Siefker, Director of the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. In part one of this four part interview, Rob talks about what he does at Zappos, how the company handles operating 24/7, what the training process is like for Zappos employees, and how the company makes the most out of cross-training its employees.

Click “Continue Reading” to see the questions and answers. You can also jump ahead and read part two, three, and/or four.

Service Untitled: So tell me about your role and what you do at Zappos.
Rob: I am the director of the Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. So that’s our contact center here in Henderson, Nevada. And I started in the company as a temp worker in 2004. It was one of my first jobs out of college actually and I started answering phone calls for the call center so that’s where my history with Zappos started. I’ve been in the call center the whole time I’ve been here which and it’s almost eight years now. On a day–to–day bias, it could be all sorts of things but you know just making sure that the call center is prepared for all different seasons for all of our contacts for your customers and making sure we have all the proper training and development for our employees and that we’re hiring properly, and just treating our customers and our employees as best as possible and helping develop and strengthen and promote our culture is definitely a big part of it. And yeah, it could be a million different little things but the main things are making sure our teams are prepared to help drive and improve our culture and then be able to provide the best possible customer experience. Those are the two big things that we focus on and that I help with.

Service Untitled: Great. So you guys are open 24/7 right?
Rob: Yes. All of our contact channels have people working on them 24/7.

Service Untitled: Okay. How do you handle 24/7 when it comes to scheduling and training and communication and things like that?
Rob: Well it’s really not – there’s nothing perfect about communication, training, or anything in any company probably. You can do it really well and you always are trying to get better and I think that’s kind of where we fall. We’re always trying to improve. But the 24–hour thing, the scheduling is handled 24/7 the same way it is at any point in the day. It’s all about contact volume. So in terms of the basic scheduling of folks because you know how many people you need to be able to meet our service level goals whether it be one in the morning or one in the afternoon. So the staffing model is the same.

We have some different shifts that work anywhere, you know start from noon to 9, 1 to 10, and these are the afternoon to evening hours and then 3 to midnight is the last non–graveyard shift. And then traditional graveyard shift is, we have folks that start at 7 and then others that start at 8:30. And so we consider that to be the graveyard of those folks that work past the midnight hour. And it’s still a fairly small group actually. It’s not a huge group of people that worked the traditional graveyard hours. And communication is, we do it in all sorts of different ways which is what we do for the folks during the day. And then we just make sure that the leadership team makes an effort to engage and interact with them. So we come in and hang out with them and do our best to have them, have that connection and that communication there.

The training, some training happens at night. Some happens during the day. We have a program that we call the Day Tripper Program and so folks from the graveyard will actually come in and spend some days during the actual daylight hours and get some extra training and extra experiences in the call center that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to experience on their graveyard shift. And we do vice versa. We also have a program for people from the daytime to spend time with the graveyard shift and kind of better understand what they do there.

Service Untitled: Is there different leadership and supervision also on the graveyard shift? Or is it the graveyard team run by themselves and report back to the people on the day shift?
Rob: It’s kind of a combination of both because we have team leads which is kind of our first line of leadership. They have teams of anywhere between 12 to 14 folks on average around the call center. And our graveyard it’s about 20 folks. And we have two team leads for the graveyard shift and they work that shift. That’s their shift. So they’re working overnight with that team full time, and those team leads have the supervisor who works late in the day, in the evening, and has other teams that are working up until midnight or 10:00 or 9:00. They have plenty of time to hang out. And then the manager that oversees that has other areas in the call center that they’re responsible for but then they have their piece and making sure that they stay connected with the team. So we do special events to have all of us go hang out with them and spend time with the graveyard. We do special team building events for them where we can all get together and hang out. So they’re pretty well–connected I would say for not working during the day.

Service Untitled: That’s very neat. When new employees start, what does the training process look like?
Rob: We developed our training process over years. We didn’t say we’re going to have this and we just started it this way. It certainly was very basic in the beginning. But right now we have four weeks of new hire training. And the new hire training is not specific to the call center employees. The new hire training process happens for everyone that’s hired in our office this year in Henderson. And so whether you’re hired as a buyer or an accountant or a software engineer, whatever it is, you go through this new hire training process. Its four weeks long, mandatory. And this class is mixed. It’s not just call center employees and other – And another group that stays in another classroom that are non–customer loyalty team members. It’s all mixed together so the class could be 20 folks that are coming to the call center and 30 folks that are going to various departments around the company. That would be a large class but just as an example. So that four weeks incorporates the call center training so everyone learns how to answer the phone, everyone talks to customers.

There’s a lot of cultural training so they understand their core values, who we want to be. There’s talk of history. They get introductions from a lot of the different leaders in the company so they meet the people that can be good contacts and points of reference for them around the organization, and then they also get a better understanding of what each department really does on a daily basis. So they go through that four weeks and then everyone that’s not in the customer loyalty team goes back to their job except for during the holidays when everybody contributes time on the phone. So that’s another side benefit for us as when we have peak season is those folks come back on the phones and help out with our customers.

And then after that four weeks, the employees that are going to the call center come in to the Customer Loyalty Team, we have three weeks of uh, we call it incubation but it’s basically kind of a more intensive on–the–job, hands–on call center training where they’re listening to, they’re getting more feedback on their phone calls. They’re taking more phone calls so they’re getting more and more practice and getting more used to doing that full time. They get a lot of feedback and they get extra training in kind of the finer details of call center stuff that we do that isn’t built in to the original four–week new hire process. So they do that and from day one to the end of training is really a seven–week process for our call center employees.

Service Untitled: Before the marketing guys get on the phone in December, do they get a refresher course or additional training? Is there a disconnect obviously between someone who does calls all day long versus someone who haven’t taken a call in six months?
Rob: You hit it right on the head. We actually have refresher courses which is exactly what we call them. So that’s what we do. It’s a few hours long. It just gives people the opportunity to kind of see what’s changed, what’s been going on in the call center. Most of the changes are pretty basic. The biggest thing is there are folks that haven’t been on the phones very often. They get nervous about it and really, that’s the hardest part I think for people is just the nerves. You know the biggest departments besides CLT in Las Vegas here is our merchandising team. They know product very well, so for them, that part of the job is not difficult. There’s some technical things that they may have to do that they’re not as familiar with but they’re prepared for it. They get refreshers. And during the holidays, it’s such a busy time of year, so many of the calls are you know, they’re fun, even more fun just because people are usually in a good mood for the most part and a lot of new orders. So not necessarily as complex of a mix as an employee is going to take at a different time of year. So during this time, we’re in its peak in terms of our volume, but it’s not quite as difficult as it would be post–holidays with returns and exchanges.

3 Responses to “Interview with Rob Siefker of Zappos – Part 1 of 4”

  1. David Poul said:

    Jan 24, 12 at 10:35 am

    I’ve been in the call center the whole time I’ve been here which and it’s almost eight years now. Thanks mate.

  2. Andrew Lechlak said:

    Jan 25, 12 at 2:47 am

    Very cool insight into how a brand still develops after years. I work for a shoe company now where we are branding ourselves on a new style of shoe. I love seeing how the big wigs do it. Thanks Douglas.

  3. Customer service book and blog update said:

    Jun 03, 12 at 1:52 pm

    [...] And much more than I can list here. Plus, they have an inside peek into Zappo’sv via a series of interviews with top executives, starting with Tony Hsieh. More on that here. [...]


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