How Tony Hsieh redefined the idea of happiness in the workplace

Great customer service is crucial to building brand loyalty and bringing repeat business; hallmarks of a company with happy customers. The key to delivering a five star service is having a team of employees who love their jobs and get a genuine buzz out of wowing their customers. In turn this helps to create a culture of happiness in the workplace.

Employers that want to see the motivational power of delivering customer happiness need look no further than Zappos, whose entire company culture is based on motivating staff to provide the best customer service in the industry. The inspiration for this came from CEO Tony Hsieh’s earlier business experience. In 1996 he co-founded a start-up, LinkExchange, which grew to around100 people and was sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million.

Hsieh, who also wrote a bestselling book on the subject, 'Delivering Happiness' , says: "What a lot of people don't know is the real reason we decided to sell the company, and that was because the company culture went downhill and towards the end I dreaded going to the office to be at my own company.

"In the early days it was a lot of fun because we were able to hire friends, and friends of friends, but as we started growing, we had to learn how to interview strangers, and not everyone we hired was good for the culture. At Zappos, I wanted to make sure we didn't make the same mistake again, so from the beginning we made sure that everyone we hired had to be a good culture fit."

Over time, they formalised their definition of culture and explicitly looked for people whose personal values were in line with Zappos’ ten corporate values, the first of which is 'Deliver WOW Through Service'.

Hsieh adds: "We figured out over time that if we had happy employees, then they would go above and beyond for the company and were better at providing great customer service and great customer experiences to our customers. This helped Zappos grow through repeat customers and word of mouth and has gotten us to where we are today." New research has uncovered a link between happiness and loyalty in the workplace that is applicable when delivering customer happiness.

Read: Are therapy apps making us happier? 

Graeme Lawrence, director of consumer insight firm Join the Dots, which worked with the University of Manchester Business School to produce the research, says: "The cleverest of companies will strive for happiness both externally and internally. That’s not to say that there aren’t challenges; individuals have different ideas of what happiness is, however, the importance of happiness in the workplace should not be underestimated and it would make sense for companies to have a happiness measure in their recruitment process."

Some companies are taking the business case for happiness seriously. Property photography specialist KeyAGENT has appointed a happiness manager, Laura Wyatt, whilst one of its recruitment criteria is that successful candidates have read Hsieh's book, Delivering Happiness.

Wyatt says: "Our contracted photographers - and there are hundreds - are the life and soul of our business, and their happiness is intrinsic to its success in property marketing. Success and happiness are interdependent and I'd passionately argue that the former is a product of the latter."

Clearly, some companies stand to gain more from the virtuous circle of happiness than others. At a firm like Chillisauce, which delivers events ranging from stag and hen parties to corporate away days, customer happiness is integral to the business.

Managing director Kevin Dazely says: "Our business is built on excitement, fun and happy memories, so there is a real buzz in our office pretty much every day. A big perk of working here is that our employees get to try out everything we sell, testing out destinations and activities. Naturally, they love this side of the job, but it also has a positive business benefit as well; the better they know a location, the more excited they get when describing it to customers. We can draw a direct link between the places and activities that our staff have enjoyed the most and what sells well."

This positive company culture also delivers measurable benefits in terms of recruitment and retention. "Those who take pride in offering a high quality service tend to perform better and stay here longer," adds Dazely. "People are often attracted to Chillisauce by the activities, but they stay because they genuinely enjoy arranging once-in-a-lifetime experiences for their customers."

However, not every company will get the same return on investing in customer happiness. As Tony Hsieh points out, it really depends on who your customers are.

He says. "At Zappos, we made the conscious decision to focus on customers who value customer service and customer experience. However, there are also consumers out there who value discounts and low prices over everything else. We choose not to go after those customers because we want service to be our differentiator, but there are certainly other businesses out there that focus on low prices. For them, focusing on customer or employee happiness might not be as important as it is to us at Zappos."

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