Hands-On Training Educates New-Hires About High Service Standard

Every new hire completes the New Hire Training program for two main reasons. First, Zappos.com, a leader in online apparel and footwear sales, is a company that has set a high standard for service for both its internal and external customers, says Rebecca Ratner, former director of Human Resources. Second, no matter what their role in the organization, “everyone takes time on the phone” when business spikes during the fourth quarter each year, she says. As a result, every employee needs to be trained on how to deliver exceptional customer service.

Extensive Training

The New Hire Training Program includes a company overview, information on the company’s history, presentations on Zappos.com’s 10 core values, and a strong focus on customer service.

The first 3 weeks of the program consist primarily of classroom-based training. Initially, new hires practice talking to “customers” during role-playing exercises. Then, they shadow and mentor current call center employees and eventually complete 40 hours of hands-on training taking actual customer calls, according to Ratner. Some of their conversations are recorded, and they receive one-on-one coaching and feedback.

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On average, about 65 percent of each group that completes the training represents customer loyalty (i.e., call center) team members, she says, while the remaining 35 percent includes new hires from other departments.

After Las Vegas-based employees have worked at Zappos.com for 6 months to 1 year, they attend a weeklong “Bootcamp” at the company’s fulfillment center in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, to gain a better understanding of how orders are processed and shipped to customers, Ratner says.

New hires at the fulfillment center complete their own comprehensive, 1-week new hire training program, which covers all aspects of fulfillment, including processing orders, packing and shipping, managing returns, and taking inventory.

Shepherdsville employees get additional training by going to the Las Vegas facility to learn more about that side of the business. Since those employees do not complete the full 4-week New Hiring Training program, they do not take actual customer calls, she explains. However, they do shadow customer loyalty team members by listening to calls and watching them communicate with customers via e-mail or live chats, as well as spend time with other Las Vegas operating departments.

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Ongoing Learning

“Pursue Growth and Learning” is one of Zappos.com’s core values, and the company offers ongoing opportunities for its employees to do so. Each department has a set of courses that employees must take, and a variety of electives allow employees to pursue their personal interests, explains Ratner.

In addition, the company promotes from within whenever possible and provides other development opportunities. For example, employees who might be interested in getting involved in another area of the business are encouraged to participate in “internal internships” in which they work in another department for 3 to 6 months to get a better sense of that department and whether they would enjoy that type of work, Ratner says. “Many of our departments offer internships.”

Efforts to promote development and learning have helped Zappos.com achieve a turnover rate of less than 20 percent, which Ratner says is low for the call center and fulfillment industries.

The company, which employs about 3,000 people, was recently ranked 11th on FORTUNE magazine’s 2012 “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

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