I started out my career in customer service, maybe not by choice but certainly intentional on the part of the universe. I found myself quickly becoming a customer advocate, having been the customer so many times and knowing there must be a better way. I had the good fortune of working with many top level call centers, some internal and external but all that would exceed industry standards and many with a reputation for superior service.

I started out my career in customer service, maybe not by choice but certainly intentional on the part of the universe. I found myself quickly becoming a customer advocate, having been the customer so many times and knowing there must be a better way. I had the good fortune of working with many top level call centers, some internal and external but all that would exceed industry standards and many with a reputation for superior service.

So it’s with mixed feelings that I read page 98 of the new book by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh called “Delivering Happiness” and learned that as financing options faded, one of their major cuts was to eliminate most of the marketing budget. Now I have questions about this decision for Tony who will be speaking to AMADC and guests on September 30 (stay tuned for details) but I want to be thoughtful in my approach.

As a marketer, I do protest (though I don’t think too much) that marketing should not be drastically cut or eliminated by an established or start up company for a service or product line under most circumstances. It’s always good business practice to reevaluate spending and bottom lines and I’m proud that as a marketer, I’ve always had impeccable relationships with operations and finance when it came to budgets. However, cutting marketing is like taking away a large piece of me (or more like ripping my heart out).

Tony goes on to say that management would make the strategic decision to differentiate Zappos in the industry by delivering superior customer service, which is what they were doing exceedingly well, and in fact, this is in large part why the book is titled, “Delivering Happiness.” As a devout customer service believer, I’m impressed with the customer service provided by Zappos. When I was telling my neighbors about this book I couldn’t put down about the CEO of a company called Zappos, their reaction was, “Yes, I know the company. They are known for their customer service.” So I sighed because I was still trying to reconcile how they could just slash marketing and focus solely on customer service.

Tony goes on to say that their marketing strategy became word of mouth. With so many opportunities to interact with customers and potential customers on the phone each day, they had the chance to set off a viral marketing campaign through their employee’s interactions with callers and then those customers telling others. Obviously the company is successful and now has a marketing budget, which includes advertising, but I’m curious as to how Tony sees marketing’s impact on business goals today in 2010. And I will ask him this too when I have the chance.

So maybe it’s semantics. Maybe he didn’t cut the marketing budget so much as he changed the strategy that created a savings in this area. I can also say that while I can’t support eliminating marketing from a budget, I can understand the need to shift focus to solidifying core competencies and brand differentiators before beefing up the marketing budget. You have to be able to deliver what you promise, no matter what role you play in your company. I can easily wrap my mind around this approach. I would be remiss if I didn’t share how Tony underscores the value of the telephone in their business. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Finally, I found someone who shares my love and continued commitment to the phone (and someone in a business where the phone accounts for only 5% of the company’s sales!). I can now sleep better at night.

If you have or are currently facing the customer service versus marketing challenge, I’d like to hear your thoughts. And I’ll let you know how Tony answers my questions. I’ll even ask him yours if you send them to me.