How Zappos Onboards New Hires Weirdly (but Effectively): Detailed Breakdown & Tips
- The crucial elements of the Zappos employee onboarding process.
- How Zappos weaved its culture in each step of staff onboarding.
- Why their onboarding is effective.
- How they strike the right balance of information and fun in onboarding.
- Some quick tips for running onboarding like Zappos.
When researching successful onboarding programs of companies, Zappos shows up pretty high on most lists.
This is because they have a unique onboarding style.
Where have you heard of engineers asked to take customer service calls?
Or a company offering new hires money to quit?
But it's effective and, above all, original. And fun and, most of all, very on-brand.
Definitely something worth breaking down and finding out why it works so well.
Discover the ins and outs of employee onboarding at Zappos and how to run an onboarding process like Zappos.
👠 How does Zappos run their onboarding process?
The entire onboarding process at Zappos is quite extensive, with four major components.
1. CLT training
Tony Hsieh, the Former CEO of Zappos, once said: "Zappos is a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes."
Now, Zappos has ventured into many products beyond shoes, but its core remains the same: Customer service is the key.
This philosophy reflects in their onboarding process, starting with four weeks of the Customer Loyalty Team (CLT) training program.
☎️ Every new hire, whatever their role might be, engineer or accountant, has to start with answering customer calls in this training period.
So, initially, they shadow seniors and then get on calls themselves.
Apart from handling customer calls, there are many sessions on company history, customer philosophy, culture, processes, and Q&A with seniors. And finally, to top it off, there are some games to make this period engaging for new hires.
2. Pay to quit
After comprehensive CLT training, new hires already get a glimpse of the company culture.
Now, Zappos wants to weed out anyone who isn't a culture fit. So they make them an offer.
If new hires don't enjoy the work or culture, they can quit straight away, and the company will give them $4000.
So only the ones who are 100% sure remain.
3. Graduation party
Those who didn't take the offer and are excited to continue at Zappos are next invited to a huge party— it's the graduation party. After all, delivering happiness is Zappos' motto.
A few Zapponians said the new hire graduation party was even better than their high school graduation.
The initial CLT training is more on the culture level and customer understanding. So when new hires join their respective teams, they further get training for their project or role. Every department has its own process to develop new team members further.
👀 3 Reasons behind Zappos's current onboarding strategy
Christina Colligan, CLT manager at Zappos, says:
"I don't know another business that has every employee go through such an involved orientation process. It costs Zappos a great deal when it comes to productivity and salaries, but it is worth it in terms of grounding all of us on the importance of the Zappos values.
The process really is an immersion in culture. Everyone at Zappos gets the same rich introduction to values and to customer service. We are all in orientation together, and we are all Zappos together."
There is much thought in place behind Zappos' current onboarding strategy.
Here are the top three drivers of their onboarding process.
1. Culture comes first
Before Zappos, Tony Hsieh co-founded another company, LinkExchange, which he later sold to Microsoft for a whopping $265 million.
In an interview with PBS News Hour, he said,
"What a lot of people actually don't know is the real reason why we ended up selling the company. And it's because the company culture just ended up going completely downhill.
I myself dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to go to my own company."
So when he took over Zappos, he didn't want history to repeat itself. So at Zappos, culture comes first-from recruiting to culture classes in the orientation program and the final litmus test of the 4000$ offer.
Zappos is always aiming at culture fit first.
2. Service is everyone's business
Stephanie Hudec, Former Onboarding Manager at Zappos, reveals the reason why every hire, regardless of role, starts with taking phone calls. The idea is to ensure all employees understand the customer, their requirements, and Zappo's customer service philosophy.
3. Happy employees = Happy customers
At Zappos, one of the core company values is: Create Fun and A Little Weirdness.
The fun part begins from the onboarding phase itself with games like a scavenger hunt, egg drop, happy hours, and, not to forget, the grand graduation party. As they say, take care of your employees, and believe they will take care of your business.
"Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can't deliver good service from unhappy employees." Tony Hsieh.
➡️ Found the Zappos way of onboarding fascinating? You will also enjoy our deep dive into how Zappos runs performance reviews.
🗝️ Why Zappos' onboarding is a hit
Any company with proper onboarding reaps benefits. Below are the five major benefits of Zappos's unique and well-thought-out process.
1. Recruiting (and aiming) for culture fit
Every new hire can change the company culture for good (and for the bad). David Cummings, Co-founder of Pardot, says: "Corporate culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage that is completely within the control of the entrepreneur. Develop a strong corporate culture first and foremost."
Zappos is known for its culture. And they aim strongly for a culture fit to retain the competitive advantage. Also, having an employee who doesn't fit in is terrible for their productivity (and the company).
2. Weeding out unsuccessful hires early on
Zappos makes the moving on part easy for the new hires who aren't fully committed to their vision and culture by offering money to quit.
After all, what's the point of having an employee who would probably be disengaged?
A Gallup report says that in a company of 10,000 employees with an average salary of $50,000 each, disengagement of employees costs $60.3 million annually.
The Pay to Quit offer saves money for the company in the long run and ensures you are not spending further time onboarding an employee who isn't fully ready to commit.
3. Gamification increases engagement
Ashley Perry, a newly hired member, shared her CLT experience in the book Zappos Experience:
"When I went through the training, I'd update my social media pages with everything we did, and my friends would say, 'I can't believe they call that work, and you are getting paid!'
This emphasis on making onboarding fun isn't just to make Zappos look fancy on social media (although that has its own benefits: 😉 employer branding).
There are business benefits.
Employee onboarding gamification increases new hire training engagement and reduces the time to productivity. Overall it makes the onboarding successful.
4. Keeping the team aware of ground realities
Involving new hires in customer service activities helps them to do their job better.
Mark Madej, a Software Engineer, explains the benefits of the CLT training in the book Zappos Experience:
"As developers, we were able to see all the software tools from the customer's perspective and the CLT rep's point of view. As a result of being in CLT training and having to answer customer calls, developers like me saw the complexity of the software involved in a process.
So, we created a tool to automate the whole mess and make the process easier on the CLT member and the customer. We wouldn't have come up with that fix if we hadn't been on the phone with customers and seen the problem for ourselves."
5. Onboarding at both company and project level
Zappos has created a perfect balance of both general onboarding and role-specific onboarding.
So, the employee adapts to the company culture first and then gets enough information to succeed in their role.
🚀 How can you run an onboarding process like Zappos?
If you see, Zappos onboarding is an ideal blend of hands-on tasks, classroom training, and fun activities.
At Zavvy, we also believe that gone are the days when you could simply give handbooks and one-day orientation sessions in the name of onboarding.
It's the time of experience-based onboarding spread over months for new hires to soak in the culture, learn and get up to speed. It's a journey.
Using Zavvy onboarding software, you can replicate Zappos' way of onboarding. Here are the steps.
📅 Scheduling all the orientation events like in-person sessions, the graduation party, happy hours, and so on from our inbuilt onboarding event scheduler.
✈️ Creating a general onboarding journey for culture, company mission, processes, etc. You can easily embed pre-existing content from Youtube, Google Drive, Typeform, and Loom.
⏰ Create reminders (Email/Slack/Teams) for the Pay to Quit scheme or any other events.
💪 Further assign training content based on the role
👯 Don't forget the elements of fun and human connections
You can make sure that your new hires take the time to meet their peers and build meaningful connections.
We also offer an extensive collection of onboarding templates. You'll just need to add some company details, and you're good to go.
And Zavvy contributes to employee growth even after onboarding.
Once onboarding is over, new hires don't just log off from the platform forever. Instead, a new experience is waiting for them. They can use the platform to:
- 🔄 Get 360 feedback for your new hires' development.
- 🌱 Further plan for career growth.
- 👥 Build connections and foster a supportive workplace culture.
In short, you can bring a system into chaos.
Get an onboarding platform to elevate the experience for your new hires. Book a demo with one of our experts today.