When Zappos went mobile, they faced the challenge of bringing its “WOW philosophy” to the mobile environment. From the start, Zappos has been differentiated by a unique approach to customer success. This approach has made Zappos a massive success story, with a base of loyal (and vocal) customers. Here are some of the challenges Zappos faced when launching apps (now for the iPhone, iPad and Tablet) and how they were overcome.
To start with, Zappos mobile customers had pretty different needs (from Zappos.com customers)
A lot of problems were technical, the users’ context was different (home vs. office vs. on the go), and customers expressed happiness/dissatisfaction everywhere they could. To adapt, Zappos adopted a blended approach, including
- a dedicated mobile support team (called the MobSki team), trained to handle the more technical queries related to the app(s)
- offsetting account and transaction related mobile support traffic to the customer service team at large, and
- using the MobSki team as a liaison between mobile customers, the larger support organization, and the mobile development team(s).
In addition, Zappos covered all possible channels. They went where the customers were, so a caring human was only ever a few clicks away. These channels include:
- a link to a customer support area/FAQ inside the app(s)
- direct phone numbers (mobile users can click to call, while tablet users can reference these)
To date, most of the MobSki team’s support traffic is technical: related to app specific, OS specific or device specific issues such as crashes or bugs. As a result, Zappos makes sure to put this context front and center wherever possible:
Email Best Practices:
Context about the device, OS, and app version are included in all support emails. The MobSki team uses this context, along with a variety of iPhones, iPads, and Android phones and tablets (kept on hand in varying form factors and OS versions) to quickly replicate problems before deciding what comes next.
In-App Mobile/Tablet chat (iOS only for now), & Voice
The chat system used in Zappos’ apps (shown above) also reports App version, OS and device specific info (which is not visible to the end user/customer).
The mobile team also runs @Zappos_mobile as a dedicated twitter handle. They use this to engage customers directly, reply to tweets about the Zappos apps, and to direct customers to the other channels (where necessary). For example:
(Twitter handles blurred out to protect users’ privacy)
Between all these, Zappos Mobile team has every channel covered. Email, Chat, and telephone as captive, private channels, and social media and the review/ratings sections of app stores as public channels.
The Mobski Team brings it all together
Team members rotate into MobSki every 6 months. On MobSki, they’re trained in the specifics of supporting an app. Afterwards, they rotate back to the general customer service group at Zappos, bringing their mobile specific skills back to the larger organization.
Training and Liaison Role
The MobSki team has multiple roles:
- Liaison: weekly meetings with the engineering team to discuss upcoming features/releases, as well as any high profile bug fixes
- Debugging Support: learning how to read crash code and crash logs, and for example learning to separate app crashes from OS crashes
- QA: contributing bug/error tracking tickets where necessary around newly discovered or frequently occurring crashes (the internal bug tracking system used at Zappos)
“Mobski also provides valuable customer feedback about existing and future features. We love to hear customer feedback about our apps and have added many features based on customer suggestions. In addition to Mobski’s communications, we obtain suggestions through user reviews, customer surveys that are available on the apps. We also like to know what features everyone likes. That’s just as important. ”
- Vincent Calderaro, Zappos Mobile Team
Going Above and Beyond
The Zappos mobile team also were generous enough to share some stories of how they go above and beyond to WOW customers. One story:
During the 2012 Holiday season, Vince (Zappos Mobile Team), shared a couple dozen $25 Zappos gift cards with the MobSki team. The team then gave these out to engaged Zappos customer via Twitter. Customers interacting with the app and tweeting about a product would unexpectedly find themselves on the receiving end of a gift card:
(Twitter handles blurred out to protect users’ privacy)
These interactions were tweeted (and retweeted) by grateful Zappos customers, sometimes to thousands of followers, who were becoming brand ambassadors for the app. In the words of Jim, Mobski Team Lead:
“Getting the word out about our app was definitely worth whatever amount of money we spent on the gift cards“
Jim Green, MobSki team lead
The development team also makes sure to have fun and craft a unique, personable experience for users. From Vince:
“We use cats on the iOS platform so when you add something to your favorites or cart, a cat flys down from the top of the screen to the shopping cart. There are some other easter egg features hidden throughout the app as well. “
Future releases (starting in the next few weeks) will include the largest Android release (including a redesign and new features) to date, as well as custom theming options for the iOS apps built around cats and dogs.
Actionable Items & Best Practices
Making your support team a little bit technical will save developer time:
- Train your support/community team to read crash reports/logs. If they can identify bugs vs OS problems vs. Device problems, they’ll solve customer problems more quickly and communicate with your engineering team more easily, saving developer time.
- Suggestion: Use a crash reporting service, of which there are several, and give your support & community team access.
Automate context - you’ll more easily replicate problems:
- Embed relevant technical information (about the App version/OS/Device) into your user interactions. Again, this will help them replicate problems more quickly, which will save time.
- Suggestion: include the details in your feedback form or email, or use a mobile support service (a live chat provider in Zappos’ case) which includes this context by default.
Meet your users where they are
- By watching every channel (email, voice, chat, social media, appstore) Zappos mobile team sees user issues whenever they arise.
- Suggestion: One potential way to do this would be to respond publicly (via Facebook or Twitter) to problems/issues flagged in the reviews and ratings sections of the various app stores.
Use social media creatively
- This should be self explanatory :)
This case study comes from an interview with Jim and Sean on the Zappos mobile support team. Our thanks to James and Jim from the Customer Loyalty team, and to the rest of the Zappos team without whom this would not have been possible.
Disclosure: Zappos uses Live Chat in the mobile apps, but isn’t a customer of Hipmob :( We’re producing this case study to share some of Zappos lessons learned and best practices with our audience and the mobile community at large. The author is CEO of Hipmob, a technology company that provides live chat, and other tools that help retailers communicate with and support mobile customers.
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