Years of experience have demonstrated that brands that provide simpler customer experiences win. But behind every brand providing simpler experiences is a leader that understands the true value of them. We deem these people “simplifiers” for their staunch commitment to the principle of simplicity.

To learn how Zappos keeps it simple, I sat down with Tony Hsieh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for the retailer.

Tony

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on your brand promise?

TH: One of my favorite quotes is “great brands are a story that never stops unfolding.” I would say what we’re most well known for is our service and customer experience. And that’s a relatively simple message to get across initially. Our culture and community are things that people learn more about over time, as they get deeper into the experience.

MM: How does Zappos strive to create simple experiences?

TH: We really leave it up to customer loyalty representatives to do whatever they can do to wow the customer. It comes down to hiring people that live our 10 core values—making sure their personal values match our corporate ones. If we get the culture right, the brand building happens as a by-product.

MM: What are the challenges in creating simple experiences for your customers?

TH: As an example, trying to do something like a product exchange is not simple. And we address it in a counterintuitive way. We actually want customers to call us so we can deliver great customer service, experience, and in that process, hide the complexity from the customer. We want our customer service reps doing the heavy lifting. Unlike websites that want to hide their 1-800 numbers, we put ours on every page and look for ways to make it more prominent. Ultimately, we’ve found that customers that have contacted us via phone have a much higher lifetime value. A brand is a shortcut to a set of emotions.

MM: Why do you think it is so difficult for most companies to deliver simplicity?

TH: I think it goes against human nature. There’s this struggle or tension between the simplicity of the story and being 100% precise in providing all the information. Most people aren’t comfortable with not being 100% precise. I think it’s critical to recognize what humans will and won’t remember. You can have a 20-page document full of 100% accurate legalese, but no one will remember it, compared to five words which capture the essence of the document.

MM: What’s the most recent, simple customer experience you’ve had?


TH: There are two. In-n-Out burger due to the consistency of their product, and Postmates, which is very simple—if I want to order food in the middle of the night, it gets to me in an hour.

MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within Zappos?

TH: As our brand evolved, we wanted to capture all the ways we thought about employees, customers and vendors. We began to have “inclusiveness creep.” Our purpose statement a year-and-a-half ago became a mouthful, and although it was complete and precise, we decided to simplify it by going back to what we had before: To live and deliver WOW. It’s much simpler to recall.

MM: More generally, what organizational changes need to be made to build a culture of simplicity within a company?

TH: One philosophy we’ve always had is to try not to make policies that address the 1% at the inconvenience of then 99%. It’s important to trust employees, because it comes down to culture. It’s hard for an unhappy employee to deliver great customer experiences. But cultural change is a long–term process.

MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?

TH: I try to just get out of the way. If people are passionate about something that will add value to our company, I encourage them to run with it. The long-term philosophy in driving self-management is to simplify management.

MM: Thank you.