The longest call in history


February 2016, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya

The longest call in history

The identities of the customer and that of the sales agent that assisted her have been changed to protect their privacy. “Good morning! It’s a beautiful day in my city. This is Allina, how may I help you?” Thus began the longest call in history (that I know of) from a customer service call center. It lasted 10 hours and 29 minutes. And a lot can be done in 10 and a half hours. Let’s see, 8 hours is a full working-day. In 7 hours you can fly from Barcelona to New York. In 10 hours, if you’re an avid reader, you can finish off a book – a long one, that is. I don’t remember the last time I slept 10 hours. In 629 minutes, you can meet someone, declare eternal love, get engaged, get married, and ask for a quick divorce, if you think that perhaps you’ve spent too much time with that person.

In this case, all those hours served to sell some women’s boots. You might ask yourself: What? I don’t understand. What kind of person spends more than 10 hours on the phone buying shoes? And an even more pertinent question: what company dedicates a sales agent’s entire day to making a transaction like that? What’s the catch? There’s no catch.

Let me take a step back – with my boots on. The company is called Zappos. It’s a shoe store that sells online and by phone. Founded in Las Vegas in 1999, nine years later it was selling a total of more than 1.000 million dollars. In 2009 it was acquired by Amazon.

During that call, the agent had to manage asking for a bathroom break without offending the customer (the company confirmed that the agent had gone to the restroom one time two hours after starting). A co-worker brought food and drink so that the agent wouldn’t collapse. Besides selling boots, they spoke about lots of things, for example, what life was like in Las Vegas, because the buyer was considering moving there. And it’s not an isolated case at this company. On another occasion, during a call that lasted 8 hours and 3 minutes (to sell some sports shoes), once the purchase had been made, the buyer wanted to discuss their habit of measuring everything in the house (my dining room table is 2 meters long, the kitchen outlet 15 cm, and so on), and also the cars they had had in the past. What’s this got to do with shoes? Nothing. That’s the point in this case. The more sales evolves, the more we return to our origins. Listen to the customer.

For me, the interesting thing about this company is that it thinks differently. They’ve innovated and done well by it. Their priority is providing legendary service. They don’t worry about the metrics of productivity per call. They don’t worry if a call lasts a long time. What they want is for the customer to be satisfied, because they’ve learned that 75% of their buyers repeat. Most important is that instead of thinking like everyone else, who want to get rid of one service after another, they have decided to add … and it works. An idea worth bearing in mind, don’t you think?