Book Review – “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh

“Delivering Happiness” is a book written by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. I came to know about this book when I was in Kinokuniya a few weeks back and I saw this book staring at me from one of the shelves. It seemed like an interesting read from the blurb (and the cover looked different from the norm).  I went on to Amazon.com (incidentally, Zappos.com was acquired by Amazon.com in 2009) to read the reviews of the book and it had good reviews. I don’t buy books nowadays so I decided to borrow this book from the library instead. Luckily, this book was available and not on loan when I wanted to borrow it.

This book is about Tony Hsieh’s journey to creating a company that delivers happiness for both employees and customers. The book starts off with his school-going days and how he liked doing business at such a young age. It then goes on to talk about his days in LinkExchange and after that, how he started Zappos. Zappos is a variation of “zapatos,” the Spanish word for “shoes”. More than half of the book talks about his days in Zappos and how he created a mega shoe empire amid lots of challenges. Zappos focuses on two aspects of business – branding through customer service and enhancing company culture.

Customer Service

Even though I have not bought anything from Zappos.com, I feel that after reading this book, Zappos.com has one of the best customer experience ever. It offers free shipping, 365-day return policy, surprises for loyal repeat customers such as overnight shipping, warehouse working 24/7, call centres running 24/7 (Zappos.com places lots of emphasis on customer experience through the telephone), among others.

Company culture

Zappos.com was ranked the 6th “Best Company to Work For” by Fortune magazine in 2011.  This is not surprising if you had read this book. The whole company culture revolves around having a fun and weird working environment and also strengthening the bond between employees. For example, when employees login to their company account, instead of just typing in the userid and password alone, they need to identify the photo of a randomly selected employee in the form of a multiple-choice question. Afterwards, a profile of that employee is shown so that everyone can learn about each other. The employees are also looking everyday on how to create a “WOW” experience for both customers and themselves. There was an instance where a customer acted a little weird on purpose over the telephone and the employee at Zappos.com played along with the customer. There’s a transcript of the conversation in the book and it’s hilarious. This is how the employees think out of the box and are encouraged to do so.

The company also came up with a “Culture Book” where the employees talk about what they like and don’t like about working in Zappos. The book is published yearly and given to employees, customers and those who request for it. It’s a raw and unedited book that captures the essence of Zappos.

Tony says that the best businesses are the ones that figure out how to combine profits, passion and purpose and the vision and culture to do that and I feel Zappos exemplifies this accurately. The core values of Zappos are as follows and it has 10 of them:

  • Deliver WOW Through Service
  • Embrace and Drive Change
  • Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  • Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  • Pursue Growth and Learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate and Determined
  • Be Humble

The employees are encouraged to internalize them and practice it in their daily lives as well.

To see how Zappos WOWs people, take a look at:

To see how crazy the employees can be, take a look at the following video:

How is the Zappos culture related to investing?

I strongly believe in the Zappos values and culture. Customer service is essential in any business-to-consumer (B2C) business. Having an exceptional customer service likes Zappos’s keeps the customers craving for more and locks in the customers.  Exceptional customer service cannot be built overnight and it takes time. It also cannot be easily replicated by competitors as a lot of things must come in the right place. This actually creates a moat around the business.

By having a strong company culture, employees will be “stuck” to their company and would love coming to work. Monday blues will be replaced by Friday blues as they would not be able to see their fellow colleagues over the weekend in their office. Work will not seem mundane anymore and productivity will increase. It’s the wonderful friends made at the workplace that keeps the employees psychologically healthy. Also, by having a vision and purpose that are aligned to their own, employees will push themselves to go further and feel more satiated.

I believe that when investors invest in a retail business, they should look out for a strong company culture and an outstanding customer service on top of the usual financial numbers for the reasons cited above. When the customers and employees are happy, profits will automatically flow in and the company grows consistently.

Lastly, everyone should read this book. Even if you are not into business and investing, this book can really help you in your personal life as it can teach you how to deliver happiness into your own life.

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