A personal touch makes this Zappos return a pleasure

Steve Cohen needed a new pair of shoes.

The Annandale, Va., veterinarian turned to Zappos, the popular internet purveyor of all types of footwear at a good price.

They got his order wrong. Really wrong.

Before Cohen could even begin to feel aggravated about solving a consumer snafu by telephone and internet, Zappos made it right. Really right – and then some.

The Good News Guy’s lack of enthusiasm for clothes and shoe shopping is bad news. Ugh. Enter online one-stop-shops like Zappos for convenience and value. Offering 17,789 choices of men’s shoes, some might be surprised to learn Zappos has been around since 1999, founded by a guy with like-minded shopping aversions.

While no one was looking, Zappos quietly ascended into Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for including a history of reviews that emphasize a unique culture of personal care for both customers and employees.

“I ordered a pair of shoes from Zappos.com, and although they came the next day, they were not what I ordered,” began Cohen. “Someone put the wrong product in a mislabeled bag.”

That is not the start of a beautiful friendship, but even the best of us can have an off day. Zappos did not get where it is without attentive staff who know how to solve a problem.

Enter Michaella, Zappos’ over-the-top problem solver and avid pet owner – the perfect goodwill ambassador for the DVM.

“When I called, she was apologetic and really nice, overnighting the correct shoes to me,” Cohen went on. “When she learned I was a retired veterinarian, she enjoyed telling me about her pets. I enjoyed telling her about my own cat named Knuble after former Washington Capitals hockey player Mike Knuble.”

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But what about the wrong shoes still in Cohen’s possession? He has better things to do than pack them up again and schlep it to a shipping pick-up store or location for a return. Michaella solved that problem by suggesting that Cohen donate them to a shelter as an opportunity to pay it forward.

What a great idea.

“Problem solved, no mess, no fuss,” said Cohen.

But wait. There’s more. And not just an extra set of Ginsu knives either.

“About a week later, another package arrived from Zappos,” continued Cohen. “In it was a handwritten note decorated with cat stickers, with one of them wearing a stethoscope. She wrote to thank me for my years of service as a veterinarian, along with a gift of an expensive fountain pen!”

Wow.

Perfection is an elusive goal, and Zappos knows that excellence is based on how mistakes are corrected. Not only did they act promptly, but also recognized that the true cost to the buyer when something goes awry also includes the inconvenience.

In this case Michaella even took it up a notch and creatively turned a potentially aggravating experience into a positive and uplifting encounter by simply being kind, making a friend, and putting shoes on some needy feet. And how can anyone not smile at the sticker of a cat with a stethoscope? How did she even find one?

We can do our part to encourage this kind of company culture by accepting that mistakes sometimes happen and letting those able to do so show their ability to correct them. We just might be pleasantly surprised.

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Cohen concluded, “This was totally unexpected, and I tell everyone about this.”

So do we.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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