Guest Post: “Can Social Help You Out-Zappos Zappos?” by Mark Babbitt

In honor of the launch of A World Gone Social by Ted Coines and Mark Babbitt this week, here are some thoughtful observations about the power of social by Mark.

share_15Can Social Help You Out-Zappos Zappos?

Author: Mark Babbitt

Think your small organization can’t compete with big guys? Think size is a disadvantage, as it was throughout the Industrial Age?

Let us introduce you to an eight-person company that beat the pants off of some of the largest, most iconic companies out there: Nike, New Balance, Adidas/Reebok, and even online retailer Zappos.

Yes, They Out-Zapposed Zappos

It all started simply enough when Ted Coine, my co-author of A World Gone Social and impulse buyer par excellence, woke up and decided he needed new running shoes, stat! So he called one of his most revered companies, the online retailer Zappos, to get some advice and place an order.

We have admired Zappos for years. The CEO, Tony Hsieh (pronounced “shay”), intentionally created a quirky, customer-obsessed culture with an intentionally relentless focus on culture. So as you read, please keep in mind that we strongly believe Zappos is a remarkable company – and we’re certain the company was having an off day when this story took place. We’re also absolutely certain that, in the Social Age, too many bad days can ruin your company—yes, even Zappos.

As we were saying, Ted woke up with running on his mind. So he called Zappos—at five o’clock in the morning Las Vegas (where Zappos is headquartered) time. His only expectation, given the reputation of Zappos and despite the early hour, was quick counsel from a human knowledgeable in all things footwear.

Within just a few moments, it was clear that Ted’s expectation would not be met.

The clerk at the other end of the line was not exactly well informed on product and was far less trained and much less focused on finding Ted a solution to his un- fortunate shoe issues. Frustrated, Ted said a polite good-bye—and ended the call without placing an order.

But Ted Coiné, the author of Spoil ’em Rotten!: Five-Star Customer Delight in Action, didn’t let it go.

Knowing Zappos is famous not just for its extraordinary service but also for the active presence its employees maintain on Twitter, he decided to throw them a meatball—a pitch so slow and right down the middle of the plate that even the newest Zapponian could easily hit a home run.

He sent a tweet to @Zappos, asking for someone to call him.

No answer. Nothing.

Disappointing—but also intriguing! Had Ted found a chink in the armor of the mighty Zappos? Ted decided to turn this should-be-easy sale into a mini-research project—one that went on for a couple of hours that morning. Ted tweeted again, asking the Zappos social media team to have a sales associate call him, informing them that he wanted to buy a pair of shoes. No one called.

Meanwhile, Ted expanded his reach. He first tweeted to Nike, the brand he already owned, and Reebok, a brand he also admired, then went directly to the running Twitter account for New Balance, another brand he liked, and the customer service handle for Zappos:

Let’s see who calls me first to sell me some running shoes (if anyone). The race is on! @newbalance @NBRunning @Zappos_Service cc @zappos

Again, nothing. Eventually, Zappos did reach out to Ted on Twitter. For some reason, however, the company refused to call him, even after he sent a private tweet (known as a DM, or “direct message”) with his phone number. Instead, the Twitter-empowered Zapponian provided Ted with the same customer service and product order phone number he had already dialed several hours earlier, when he spoke to that less-than-helpful clerk. Ted wasn’t even offered the direct extension of a knowledgeable veteran employee who would be happy to assist.

Meanwhile, in the Social Age

In what has become standard practice on social media, another company—a smaller, hungrier company than the one from the land of Zapponia, a company that generates sales by closely monitoring social media channels—was hard at work. It knew that many of its potential customers buy shoes online. It knew that many of them loved Zappos. And it knew that many who loved running would order Nikes online from Zappos.

@tedcoine We’d love to sell you some shoes! Check out our Men’s at . . . and give us a call (617) 431–3800

It turns out this socially enabled, shoe-selling start-up—specifically, an intern at the start-up—was using a low-cost monitoring tool called Sprout Social. On the Sprout dashboard (which can be closely watched from any desktop, laptop, iPad/ tablet, or smartphone), that intern was most likely monitoring a combination of keywords. In this case, perhaps those keywords included “shoes,” “running,” and “purchase.” The intern might have even been monitoring “sell me some running shoes” or maybe even “Hey, @Zappos . . . call me!”

This intern was Alex Stoyle, who followed the basic rules of social media monitoring and selling:

  • Rule No. 1: Actively listen.
  • Rule No. 2: Respond quickly.
  • Rule No. 3: Meet customers where they are now.

Alex saw Ted’s tweets (he listened). He reached out to Ted (he responded quickly). He asked Ted, via DM, for his phone number (he met the customer where he was then). Alex called Ted.

Alex Made the Sale

Alex’s employer, Topo Athletics, had just opened a few months before, with a unique design that set them apart. Ted was reluctant to try this new shoe out, so Alex walked him through the technology and the benefits. When the well of Alex’s product knowledge ran dry, he put a coworker, whose specialty was product design, on the line with Ted to answer more questions. Satisfied with the science behind the shoes, and now really rooting for the little guy, Ted placed his order.

And Ted told 300,000 of his closest friends:

I’m placing my order now with Alex at @topoathletic. This #intern grabbed my business from 4 multinational corps!! #bravo !!!!

It should be noted that, as of this writing, Ted has never heard from New Balance, Reebok, or Nike. He never heard from Zappos.

And while all these well-established, well-respected companies—which most likely have entire social media command centers backed by the best enterprise-level software available—were ignoring a potential sale, an intern at a tiny eight-person company won the day, and Ted’s business.

Alex showed them all how it’s done… in the Social Age.



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promo_02Mark Babbitt is the CEO and Founder of YouTern, a talent community that enables college students, recent graduates and young careerists to become highly employable by connecting them to high-impact internships, mentors and contemporary career advice. Mark has been featured as a keynote speaker and workshop director by the Tiger Woods Foundation, Smithsonian Institute and National Association of Colleges and Employers. He is an in-demand speaker at colleges and fraternities, including UCLA, the California State University system, New York University, Delta Sigma Pi and Alpha Kappa Psi.


promo_03Together with Ted Coiné they will be releasing their book A World Gone Social on September 22, 2014.



2 thoughts on “Guest Post: “Can Social Help You Out-Zappos Zappos?” by Mark Babbitt

  1. Interesting story, Mark! And illustrative of a concept that, at first blush, may seem counter-intuitive: you can never WIN just by applying best practices. Zappos made it a best practice for shoe retailers to provide great service. But a new startup that provides great service alone is unlikely to overtake the leader. However, an upstart brand that finds a new and differentiated way to provide great service – but meeting unmet needs or queries on social – has every chance in the world to succeed regardless of size.


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