Partnership Ethos and the VP of LOVE

Early last year, I ghostwrote an article praising Amazon.com and Zappos.com, but the client declined to run the column.  Too bad, because when Amazon announced it was purchasing Zappos, my client would have looked either prescient or in the know. I am neither. I simply wrote about those companies because I love them. And I feel like they love me.

Late at night, when my wife is sleeping or rereading yet another Jane Austen novel (is there really a difference?), I can spill my guts to Amazon. Amazon knows that I’d rather have a Leatherman 830039 New Wave Multitool with Leather Sheath than a new set of drapes in the kitchen. Amazon listens.

I can tell Amazon I want a Nikon D3s and Amazon never says, “You don’t need another camera,” or “We can’t afford it,” or “But, honey, you really need new socks!”

Sigh.

Oh, sorry, I was drawing hearts on my notebook, and Amazon’s name in 3-D letters with delicate chiaroscuro shading.  Where was I?

Oh yes, the evolution of customer service. Amazon and Zappos understand that high tech should enhance, not replace, high touch. Ironically, I get more personal service online than I can get in my local mall, where I’m lucky to find store personnel in the first place, and would run right out and buy lottery tickets if my luck was ever good enough to put me face-to-face with a competent and caring sales clerk. I don’t blame the clerks, you know. Somewhere in the company’s corporate headquarters is a VP of Marketing who simply doesn’t understand that he or she is supposed to be the VP of LOVE.

Brands are built on customer experience, and brand loyalty is built on emotional responses to that experience. I forgive Amazon and Zappos their occasional transgressions because I know how they really feel about me – they want MY love. And they want it so much; they treat me like a customer! They admit and correct their mistakes and they even forgive and correct my mistakes. They don’t just tell me that they care. They show me that they care.

When I talk to coworkers at Zappos, I instantly feel that I’ve got a partner in the enterprise, someone who wants to work with me to achieve my goals, however long it takes. When was the last time you felt that way at the mall?

E Pluribus Success means “out of many, success.” A partnership ethos recognizes customers, coworkers, vendors and the community as co-owners. Too many entrepreneurs and executives do not appreciate their real partners. Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea laughs about this when addressing audiences: “You think you own the company? If you don’t treat them right, your frontline coworkers can steal from you. If you don’t treat them right, they can be rude to customers. They can do mediocre work. And you think you own the company?”

Many retailers engage in brand-buying rather than brand building. They try to win customers through advertising and promotional tactics instead of delivering exceptional customer service. But remember, others can buy anyone who can be bought. Companies like Amazon and Zappos seem to know the simple secret to strong relationships: people in love LISTEN to each other. Who is the VP of LOVE at your organization?

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