Zappos Airlines – A First Class Ticket to Customer Experience

Zappos Airlines - A First Class Ticket to Customer Experience

What do Zappos and the airline industry have in common? Almost nothing, except that they’re both in the news quite a lot. While Zappos frequently makes headlines for doing what’s right for the customer, most of the airline industry is busy scheming ways to nickel and dime its customers.

But, what if you were to mash the two together and Zappos started an airline? It’s something that CEO Tony Hsieh has mentioned on more than one occasion, including in his recent book, Delivering Happiness.

Barry Dalton and I tossed around some ideas a couple months ago regarding Zappos and how they could transform the air travel experience.

How would Zappos run an airline? What would the face-to-face experiences be like? How would ticket exchanges be handled? What would the planes look like?

Borrowing from five of the Zappos Core Values, let’s take a quick look at the experience we might expect from Zappos Airlines.

1. Deliver WOW through Service
The #1 core value of Zappos is the foundation of their culture. It’s also the catalyst for the ridiculous amounts of word-of-mouth marketing the brand receives; it’s amazing to think a brand that sells something as boring as shoes is reinventing a business model. Zappos is proof that a company can create value and loyalty by consistently delivering a great service experience.

Do your recent air travels conjure up thoughts of remarkable service? Were you wowed by the airline’s ability to deliver an unexpected and innovative experience? My guess is no. Are there random acts of it occuring? Sure there are, more so on airlines like Southwest, but they’re still few and far between. I think Zappos Airlines would be different. By delivering WOW through service and creating a remarkable customer experience, Zappos Airlines could build the same word of mouth and loyalty they’ve enjoyed in the online retail world.

2. Embrace and Drive Change
Talk about something the airline industry needs a lesson on. Their idea of change is removing meals and charging for bags. While those things have helped the industry get back into the black, they’ve demoralized travelers and seem to have escalated service incidents, like this one (and this one and this one and this one and this one and…well, you get the picture).

3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
Southwest actually does a pretty good job of this, but that’s only because it’s also part of their culture. The rest of the industry seems to look down on fun and weirdness. If anything, I’d say they’re seen as a safety threat; something that should be avoided at all costs.

I’m told that people used to look forward to flying; that it was a privilege awarded to a lucky few. It must have been fun back then. I bet they smiled more. I bet they took great pride in their products and service. I bet they wore attractive and eye-catching uniforms. I bet they weren’t afraid to have fun while at work. I bet they acted a lot like Zappos acts today.

4. Be Adventurous, Creative, And Open-Minded
The air travel experience is a victim of rigid and pointless policy. The TSA has instituted a vicious fear tax (no snowglobes please) whose only purpose is to simulate security, not actually provide it.

The airlines have followed suit and continue to adhere to rigid systems that thwart service, instead of empowering their employees to use awareness and make decisions that are helpful to both the customer and the company.

Zappos prides itself on hiring employees that can solve problems in their own way by thinking outside the box. They are encouraged to take risks and not punished when they don’t work out. This creates unexpected and memorable experiences. Experiences worth remarking about. Experiences that drive loyalty.

5. Do More With Less
As the airline industry continues to search for experience-destroying ways to increase the bottom line, companies like Zappos are busy providing great service and making money. The only thing the airline industry is producing more of is complaints. The recent Air Travel Consumer Report from the US Department of Transportation shows a 90% increase in complaints when comparing June 2009 to June 2010. Year to date statistics show a 32% increase in complaints in comparison to the same time period a year ago.

While the value delivered by the airlines continues to diminish, Zappos is always striving to incrementally improve itself. As they become increasingly more efficient and refuse to succumb to the good enough syndrome that plagues its competition, Zappos continues to serve as an example for not just a great shoe company, but a great service company.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll be waiting in line to buy my ticket on Zappos Airlines…just as soon as Tony finishes up with that bus.

InfoThis post originally appeared on Barry Dalton’s blog. I’m reposting here just in case you missed it. Be sure to follow Barry if you don’t already, he’s chock-full of great insight.


  1. Hi – there is a Zappo’s airline. Virgin America/Virgin Atlantic. They are amazing at creating WOW at every turn and in Virgin Atlantic’s case been doing it for 25 years. We’ve written about Virgin extensively on our blog. Our post about the Virgin master brand is here – once on our blog search for “Virgin” to find other evidence that they know how to create the “wow” feeling Tom is looking for…

    So Mr Zappo’s, you don’t need to start an airline after all…

  2. Sorry – I meant the “wow” factor TIM is looking for… d’oh!

  3. Yes there is always..always…. more room for change within the airline busness. BUT it must start with the consumer needs first. With out loyal customers…you are dead..and once “red ink” gets on the is there “almost forever”..almost (till changed with profit).

    I have been in the air business (airlines) for years..and “all” whom I have worked for in the past years..have all gone away. “All” period.

    By pleasing..each customer… (and/or really trying hard to) that is the KEY TO SUCCESS. This includes working close with TSA, Airport officials, Security, Airport vendors, Bus/taxi suppliers, “all” those who are connected with or serving the “venue” (Airport). That will create success for the airline. they too serve the customer who travels – business or pleasure.

    The customer is King. And if “as many of his needs are met” , that breeds success. Period. I hope Zappos Airlines “takes-off”.


  1. Tony Hsieh, Zappos, and the Art of Great Company Culture

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