Outstanding Customer Service and Where It's Coming From

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Is anyone else seeing what’s happening here? I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but companies are becoming obsessed with excellent customer service.

I witnessed it a little here and a little there at first, but then, after reading last month’s Inc. magazine’s article on Tony Hsieh and Zappos, I started to notice it everywhere.

First, I ordered shoes from Zappos. Got them next day with free shipping and returned two pairs with no issue. I haven’t had to call in yet, and don’t think I’ll ever have to because that company has their shit together. Did you know they can get an order into a box and ready to be shipped within 8 minutes of you pressing "buy?" That’s impressive for a 800,000 square foot warehouse. Hsieh isn’t trying to build a store where you buy shoes, though, as the article describes. He’s building a store where you buy happiness.

At first I thought it was just Zappos, but then I found Bonobos. Who would buy pants online? Well when you make it so easy, I think the question becomes who wouldn’t buy pants online. I have yet to use these guys, but my next pair is coming from that site.

A short aside: how long will it take for these apparel sites to build a “if you’re an 11.5 in Kangaroos, you’ll be an 11 Puma” feature.

So I started to notice a trend, although some people say it takes three occurrences of something to become a real pattern.

I manage a website for a summer camp up in New Hampshire that I went to as a kid. Great place, by the way. I get copied on all the form submissions from the site; usually it’s just spam or a parent curious about tuition. Then I read this:


I work for Garmin GPS. I received a complaint from one of our customers on how our unit guided him to your camp. He said it took at least one unsuitable dirt road (almost a trail).

I am going to try to get this fixed. May I ask a question since you know the area and I do not? When routing to the camp from the south, should the route involved 109A and then Federal Corner up to the camp? Our units seem to want to approach from the other side (via HWY 171 from the northeast). I think that may be the problem–that Federal Court is awful between 171 and camp but is okay between camp and 109A? I may be guessing wrong. Any help appreciated.

It just so happens that I’ve been down that trail, and I was lost. Of course, that was back when MapQuest ruled the world (proof that you can take down the market leader with a better producttwice. Goin’ back though, how cool is it for a GPS company to take such ownership of their product?

So what’s the deal? If an online shoe company can figure it out, what’s Comcast’s problem? Or AT&T’s for that matter. It’s a good thing I asked, because I’ll tell you: constraints. When you’ve got your customers by the balls you don’t have to be nice. But when you’re selling a product that people have to try before they buy, you do.

An article from Popular Science a few months back talked about the work two desktop printer engineers are doing in the development of a nuclear fusion generator. They’re competing with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a consortium of seven governments sinking billions of dollars into decades worth of research. And they’re doing it with 2 million bucks in an office park.

“It’s pretty basic, boring stuff,” he says. “Look in your car. There’s no superconducting magnet in there. There’s pipes and pistons and tubes. That’s what I want. I want to make a fusion machine at a sort of car level. And that’s why we can make it for $50 million and they” – government and university coalitions – “make it for $20 billion. That’s the difference.”

It’s survival of the fittest. So look for innovation, whether it be the cure for cancer, a solution to the world’s energy problems, how to get to space more cheaply, or just how to get a great pair of shoes, from the underdogs. Because when the only other option is straight up failure, it’s amazing what people are capable of.

Thanks for reading! I'm Avand.

I’ve been working on the web for over a decade and am passionate about building great products.

My last job was with Airbnb, where I focused on internal products that helped teams measure the quality of the software they were building. I also built internal tools for employees to stay more connected, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, I was lead engineer at Mystery Science, the #1 way in which science is taught in U.S. elementary school classroms. For a while, I also taught with General Assembly, teaching aspiring developers the basics of front-end web development.

I was born in Boston, grew up in Salt Lake City, and spent many years living in Chicago. Now, I call San Francisco my home and Mariposa my home away from home.

I enjoy the great outdoors and absolutely love music and dance. Cars have been an lifelong obsession of mine, especially vintage BMWs and Volkswagens. I’m the proud owner of a 2002 E-250 Sportsmobile van, and he and I have enjoyed many trips to beautiful and remote parts of the West Coast to create good vibes.

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