Monday, March 28, 2011

BIG’s Blog: What do Happy Employees have to do with Happy Donors?

Recently, I visited, the online retailer based in Henderson, Nevada, with the fund raising management team of a large South Dakota faith-based nonprofit. We had read the CEO’s book Delivering Happiness as part of our work together and thought that there might be more we could learn from this online retailer that touted Customer Service above all else by actually seeing their business live and in person.

It turns out there is a lot nonprofits can learn about Customer Service from Zappos, although it was a surprise to learn that the focus of management at Zappos is not on Customer Service. The focus of Zappos management is workplace culture. The CEO of Zappos and the author of the best selling book about Zappos is Tony Hsieh. Tony understood that a customer’s impression of Zappos comes down to the one time in their life that they may call with a question or a problem. If the Zappos person on the other end of that call doesn’t help them or make them feel good about their decision to shop at Zappos, then everything else they do is for nothing. The focus of Zappos management is to make certain that they do all they can to make their employees happy. In turn, this emphasis of happiness is passed down to customers from the happy Zappos employees. And, in the end, it’s not just about delivering shoes or apparel; it’s about delivering happiness.

As you can imagine, there a lot of people that want to work for Zappos. In fact, they have 2,000 applications for every job opening. The number one reason people leave Zappos is because a spouse gets a job in a different city, which is why it was a surprise to learn that one of the Zappos people that was showing us around was actually leaving Zappos. His story was somewhat unique. He had come to Nevada as a church youth pastor, but, with the recession of 2008 which hit Nevada very hard, he lost his job. He answered a job post for Zappos and was hired. Today, he is torn about leaving, but, his heart was always in ministry and he has been recruited by a church on the east coast.

He told me that he really loves working at Zappos. He told us that the culture of caring for the people that work at Zappos isn’t fake; it is the real deal. He said every single day he gets up he cannot wait to get to work and he knows that virtually every single employee feels the same way. They are all passionate about Zappos and delivering for their customers. But, then he said something that gave our whole group something to really think about, “Why is it that a for-profit company like Zappos has a happier and more upbeat environment and culture with people that really care about each other than most churches?”

We all came away from the trip to Zappos understanding that we had just witnessed something very unique, but also something with lessons that applied to nonprofit fund raising groups as well. While we all know that taking care of our donors is very important to the long term financial success of our organizations, we also need to (day in and day out) learn to take care of the people that take care of our donors.

Tony Hsieh asks the question, “Are we in the shoe business to take care of people, or are we in the people business to sell shoes?” Then he answers his own question by saying Zappos is in the people business which is why delivering happiness is so important.


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