June 2, 2020

Customer service’s big pivot: Let’s just chat

Something on your mind? Businesses want to take your call.

Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The news has been bleak for, y’know, several eons now — and if you need to talk through it, you can always call Zappos. 

Since April, the online shoe retailer has encouraged its staff to make small talk with customers. Need to vent about Uncut Gems or just hear a stranger laugh? Zappos is ready for you. 

Even before the Bad Times, Zappos encouraged reps to chat with customers — years ago, one call lasted 11 hours.

More recently, one woman who called in to confirm a receipt for hot pink Crocs ended up chatting about her favorite Brazilian restaurant in Las Vegas and her relationship with her mother.

Ready for that hotline bling?

Since the pandemic started, plenty of companies have rethought their approach to customer service.

At the height of lockdown, a Dallas bookstore launched a special hotline: Customers dialed in not just to ask for book recommendations but also to discuss Love Is Blind or their feelings of loneliness with the general manager, Cristina Rodriguez.  

A library in Rochester, Minnesota gets ~60 rings a day from residents, and the librarians have started placing “social connectedness” calls to regular visitors they haven’t heard from in a while — just to check in. 

But good luck outrunning Zappos

The company is the biggest yet to adopt a “call us for anything” model — and, sneakers aside, it has even offered to connect people to needed resources. 

“Need help locating those hard to find items? Looking for a place to host your family reunion?” Zappos asks. “Give us a call.”

At one point, a director at the Mount Sinai hospital system called Zappos in search of pulse oximeters — medical devices that measure blood oxygen levels. 

The oximeters were out of stock everywhere, but Zappos managed to find — and ship — 500 of them. “It was, like, unbelievable from our perspective,” the director told The New York Times.

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