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Celebrating Tony Hsieh's Contribution to CX

by Jeremy Watkin and Community

The all-too-sudden and tragic passing of former Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh has sent a ripple through the business world, and the customer experience (CX) community is no exception.

In the past, I’ve often chuckled upon reading about Zappos in a book or hearing the name mentioned in a keynote address as a model for customer-centricity. But the truth is that, even though Zappos became a go-to name when talking about CX, it was and is for very good reason.

Tony Hsieh, whether we knew him or not, was an influencer and mentor to so many of us in the world of CX. In this article, I’ll share some of the words from members of our community as a way of celebrating his life.

🔹 Customer service as a differentiator

Roy Atkinson shares this wonderful insight,

"Tony Hsieh and his approach to customer service and CX impacted me and the industry in a big way. The idea of being a provider of customer service that happened to sell shoes gave us the idea that service is our big differentiator and a real asset."

🔹 Blueprint for customer-centricity

Kay Phelps, Director of Product Marketing at Edify says,

“Tony Hsieh provided extraordinary leadership and was a role model for great CX. If you've not read his book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, I highly recommend you add it to your reading list.”

Erica Mancuso, Director of Offer Management at nThrive adds,

"I was so inspired after reading “Delivering Happiness” 7 or so years ago that I booked the Zappos tour on my next trip to Vegas. While on the tour, Tony was entering the office. He walked right past our tour group, said hi, then sat down at his cube. I was star-struck." 🤩🤩

🔹 Igniting a passion for CX

Sheri Kendall, Training Manager at Wayfair remembers,

"Zappos has played an integral part in my love story with CX. When I was first introduced to the company I read everything I could find about their culture, training, leadership philosophy, and Tony. I fell in love with CX by the time I was done. Zappos taught me that my idea of positively changing a customer's day one interaction at a time was not a lofty ambition but an achievable goal.

Tony understood that if you treated your people right and provided them with tools and education, memorable customer experiences would result. I have learned a few things through his passing as well. Be kind, treat your teams well, innovate, and work hard. Thank you for those lessons, Tony."

🔹 Inspiring service workers

Nate Brown, Chief Experience Officer at Officium Labs reflects,

"Tony has done so much to make customer service and CX a respected and celebrated function inside of organizations. He helped to give great pride to an entire generation of service workers. Here is one amazing quote from him: 'No matter what your past has been, you have a spotless future.'"

🔹 Valuing a healthy level of irreverence

Leslie O’Flahavan, Owner at E-WRITE had this to say,

"Tony Hsieh and Zappos show the value of irreverence, but not the grating kind. They revered the customer relationship and upended everything else. Also, they published the Culture Book (pictured). As a writing teacher and literary magazine-type person, I loved this. Employee experience (EX) is customer experience!"

🔹 Prioritizing the employee experience

Expanding on the idea that EX drives CX, Schubert Koleka, Business Manager at Standard Bank Malawi shares:

What I learned from him is that it is possible to have fun and make money for your company at the same time. You just need to lead your people with humanity.

🔹 Driven by core values

Shep Hyken spoke of many amazing things Tony did:

"Tony Hsieh put his personal stamp on Zappos and that continued long after Amazon acquired them. Zappos is a case study on how to create a customer-focused culture. Starting with Hsieh’s core values. The onboarding and “buy out” if the employee wants to leave is ingenious.

A phone number on every page of an eCommerce site – almost unheard of! I could go on and on. I already miss you, Tony"

Here’s what Luis Melo, Senior Manager at Zendesk had to say about “the offer,”

"I loved his policy of paying people $1,000 to leave after a few weeks at the job. It showed respect for the unhappy/unfit employee, for the other employees (colleagues), for the customer, and for the company. EX, CX, and return on investment all in one simple act!

🔹 An innovative mindset

Adam Toporek reminds up why we’re talking about Tony Hsieh in the first place:

"Two things stand out to me. First, his innovative mindset towards customer service and CX. We're talking about him because he did not settle for conventional solutions. Second, EX and more broadly the idea that culture and EX had a direct impact on CX."

Leaving a rich legacy

Truly, Tony Hsieh was taken from us too soon, but the legacy he left is rich and his fingerprints will be apparent in the work of CX for years to come.

If he has had a difference in your career and life, take a moment to leave a comment below share the impact Tony Hsieh had on you...


Jeremy Watkin is a CX leader, contact center veteran, and Director of Customer Service and CX at NumberBarn. He is an avid learner, and is constantly giving back to the CX and Customer Service community through his writings. You can see his work featured on Customer Think, Customer Service Life, and now CX Accelerator!

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