Tyler Williams, Fungineer, Zappos, interviewed by Ross Falconer.
Zappos is a true disruptor. The Las Vegas-based online clothing and accessories retailer started-up in 1999 selling shoes (‘Zappos’ is a variation on ‘zapatos’ the Spanish word for shoes) and sees itself as a “service company”, prioritising building meaningful and memorable relationships with its customers.
The organisation has already tested the waters in the air transport industry, with baggage reclaim games among its inventive approaches to improving the travel experience, and it is now searching for airline and airport partners who are willing to think differently to improve customer experiences.
Tyler Williams is the Fungineer at Zappos, as well as the Lead of the Brand Aura team – a creative marketing team that pushes the boundaries of the Zappos brand by executing unique and slightly irreverent nationwide events and campaigns for employees, customers, and the community. Zappos created the Brand Aura team as part of its transition into self-organisation, and Williams tells Airport Business that holacracy and self-management have enabled Zappos to empower employees by moving away from traditional company structures.
“Instead of teams, we have circles,” he explains. “The whole company is a circle and within that there are smaller circles, each with a clear purpose and accountabilities. So, if you think of self-organisation as the goal, holacracy is the operating system. It helps us to visualise things for groups within the organisation and then it’s easy for people to transfer in and out of roles, and easy for people to transfer in and out of circles within the company.”
Zappos is looking to identify areas where its focus on the customer experience could help it disrupt a new market. It has brainstormed ideas like establishing a Zappos hotel or airline, and first entered the air transport space with its baggage reclaim game at airports including Houston George Bush Intercontinental and New York JFK. “When people travel, a lot of times it’s a dreary experience,” says Williams. “We wanted to welcome passengers to their destination, make their day a little brighter and give them the opportunity to win prizes when their bag falls out onto the carousel.”
Prizes included jackets, backpacks, Ugg boots, kitchen appliances, and Zappos gift certificates. The baggage reclaim game will soon return at Las Vegas McCarran International, and if the model continues to work it will be rolled out at other airports.
It is the first example of Zappos’ desire to work with airports and airlines that are willing to think differently to improve customer experiences by infusing its own brand of customer service into different areas of the industry.
“We believe there are low cost, high impact, and easily executable solutions to enhance traveller happiness at all stages of the travel journey,” says Williams. “The seating and waiting areas at airports can be a little uncomfortable and stale, and they definitely could use more personality and character in my opinion. Interactive art installations, for example, would be a great way of achieving this. All you ever see is people sitting, staring at their phones – there’s nothing in the space to allow people to play, and I think you would really increase the experience if you brought in some small elements of that nature.”
Zappos is in the very early stages of transitioning its irreverent brand of customer service into the air transport industry, but it is clear from our discussion that Williams views it as a sector in which the organisation could bring a valuable, different perspective.
“The Zappos approach has always been experience first and profit later. If you get the culture right, everything else takes care of itself. By focusing on the best possible experience, the air transport industry is going to grow exponentially, because more and more people will want to travel that way. We are looking for partners to reimagine the travel experience with,” Williams concludes.