Experience The Culture: A Q&A With Zappos’ Lead Tour Guide
As a young girl, I remember visiting Hershey’s famous chocolate factory. I was in awe watching the huge machines squeeze out floods of thick, soft milk chocolate. The stainless-steel paddles that had pushed vast quantities of liquid gold were bigger than my childhood self. Then to see the chocolate cooled, cut and stamped with the iconic Hershey logo, and get dressed in a shimmering foil wrapper, was an experience I’ve never forgotten.
Food and beverage tours have been popular amongst the masses for decades (free samples, anyone?). However, corporate office tours are also becoming more prominent across industries, from manufacturing warehouses and brick and mortar stores to online e-commerce businesses. By opening up to the public, companies are able to connect with their customers on a more human level.
Zappos is one such company that has been providing guided tours since 2006. Located in downtown Las Vegas, nearly 20,000 people walk through our headquarters each year to learn and experience our culture first-hand. None of it would be possible, however, without the hard work of its five Culture Guides and team leader, Letha Myles.
A Cleveland, Ohio native, Myles moved to Las Vegas in 2007 after growing tired of the cold, seemingly endless winters. “I was stuck in a snowdrift for three days,” said Myles with a jovial laugh, “and I was over it.”
With its endless sunshine and hard-partying atmosphere, Vegas appeared to be the perfect destination to continue her bartending career. But not long after her move, she joined Zappos’ call center as a Customer Loyalty representative. It was only supposed to be temporary, said Myles, until “something better came along.”
And something did. After eight years of WOWing customers over the phone, she had a heart-to-heart talk with her team lead. She recommended she stay with the company and transition from customer service to the Tours Team. Fast forward a few years, and she’s tasked with creating a one-of-a-kind tour experience for guests around the globe.
We sat down with Myles to learn more about the history of Zappos tours and why she’s so passionate about her role as a Culture Guide.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Not many online companies were offering tours in the mid-2000s. Why did Zappos start offering tours?
Selling shoes online was not a very popular idea at the time, so it was important for us to be able to show our vendors the care we would take with their brands. After the initial tour, vendors requested more tours for friends and family until we decided we needed a formal tour program. Now people from all walks of life join us on our tours, from businesses to fans of the brand. We give around 1,000 tours yearly to approximately 20,000 people. Seventeen percent of them are out-of-country guests.
Why is it essential for Zappos to share the inner workings of its company and culture to others?
More and more companies are starting to understand the importance of having a good company culture. We should be doing everything we can to help shape the future of the work environment. Tours help with that. Our five guides try to create a very personal experience for each of our guests, which often extends beyond the original tour.
In what ways do we allow our offices to be the storyteller?
I believe employee desks are one of the most prominent storytellers we have. The decorations allow the individual to shine through, which I think allows our guests to understand each of the employees are actual people and not just grouped as “The Call Center” or “Merchandising.” It says Zappos is genuinely committed to letting our employees be individuals. The artwork also allows us to tell the story of how our talents can evolve our Zappos journey beyond what someone may have been hired to do.
What part of the tour do guests get the most excited?
Hands down the nap room, which makes sense because it is visually stunning. Another surprise (at least to me) is Mainframe. People are so amazed we have an actual IT department in the building.
What makes the Zappos office tour unique and WOW-worthy?
The money and time we invest to make sure the tour is interesting and features departments of interest to our guests. We are always trying to evolve the experience, from the path we can take to the stories we tell.
In your years of giving tours, what’s been your most memorable experience?
I have been doing tours four years now, and I can say my most memorable experience was touring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s such an amazing individual and was genuinely interested in what I had to say and what Zappos stands for. We have since developed a friendship. The best compliment I’ve ever received came from when he said: “We need more Letha!”
Besides the 90-minute guided tour, what other tour experiences do you offer?
We have a total of six tours from which to choose. The most popular include the Downtown Escapade, which takes our guests through downtown Vegas to showcase the change brought on by the Zappos move. The Vegas Bar Crawl that takes guests to four different bars in the area and explains the relationship between that bar and Zappos. And the Tour + Lunch, which combines the traditional tour and an hour lunch allowing for more in-depth conversations.
If there’s one Core Value you want a guest to take with them, what would it be?
Embrace and Drive Change. It’s so easy for us to fall into a comfortable place in so many facets of our lives. I’ve learned over the years that stagnation is detrimental in every aspect of life, and if one wants to thrive, they need to be continually evolving.
What’s one question you’ve been asked that stands above the rest?
“Why have you stayed for so long?” I love this question because it opens the door for me to share the personal experiences I’ve had over the past 12 years. I don’t think it would have happened in any other place.