Zappos means shoes and customer service to most online shoppers. How does Zappos relate to healthcare? I recently visited Zappos’ headquarters in Las Vegas to learn from the company that delivers happiness.
For starters, 15 years ago we wouldn’t dream of buying shoes without trying them on first. How did Zappos build a $1 billion business from selling shoes online? Not with magic, but with a formula that is decidedly practical and one that lends itself to more than selling shoes:
- An easy-to-use online experience
- A high level of service, including people if you need to talk with them
- Free, no-hassle returns
It is hard to imagine making all of this work in healthcare – we cannot return healthcare services. But that shouldn’t stop us from incorporating other elements that Zappos embodies – customer focus, convenience, and no hassle – so that our industry is easier for consumers. And while we’ve made progress – mobile health apps, convenience care clinics and wearable devices – we still have a way to go before consumers characterize us collectively as delivering “wow through service.”
Another value Zappos promotes is transparency with customers as well as internally among their staff. Their premise is that transparency helps inspire loyalty and passion. During my visit, we saw an unusual example of transparency. In their quarterly “all hands” meeting the senior management were interviewed in front of 1,500 employees and asked, among other things, the biggest mistake they ever made. And they answered the question. Transparency is just beginning in healthcare with companies that offer pricing information, more media exposure of medical costs and errors and evidence that it is beneficial for physicians to apologize for errors. Transparency (about price, quality, cost, privacy) is a good business practice and will help all of us become more effective healthcare consumers.
Finally, employees at Zappos have a “can do” spirit which is nearly palpable. Their youth and energy (I was told the majority of employees are in their late 20’s to early 30’s) are combined with a willingness to question the status quo and to approach opportunities – e-commerce, service strategies, and even urban renewal – with a fresh perspective. This can also mean disruption to traditional industries like healthcare. When we read that consumers are willing to purchase insurance from non-traditional online providers, we’re reminded that the pace of disruption in our industry is only going to accelerate. We’ll see more from a segment of Americans who believe there is a better way of doing things – even in healthcare. And while you can’t return a healthcare service, it shouldn’t stop our industry from being more consumer-focused: easily understood, easy to work with, transparent. In other words, more like Zappos.