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April 17, 2017

On a recent afternoon at the Henderson, Nevada, headquarters of Zappos, America’s leading online shoe retailer, Katrina Jadkowski, a member of the company’s three-hundred-and-fifty-person Customer Loyalty Team, was on the phone with an elderly woman named Susie, from Aurora, Colorado, who wanted to exchange a pair of too-snug New Balance sneakers. “I just got back in town and I have an orthotics appointment,” Susie said, sounding a bit anxious about this newfangled shopping experience.Jadkowski, a British-born, divorced former showgirl whose colleagues have nicknamed her Hurricane, arranged to have a UPS return label printed and a replacement pair, size 5½ EE, shipped free, overnight. “That’s just beautiful—I love this company!” Susie shouted.

The Customer Loyalty Team, or C.L.T., is the nerve center of Zappos, whose thirty-five-year-old C.E.O., Tony Hsieh, has earned a zealous following by imposing an ethos of live human connection on the chilly, anonymous bazaar of the Internet. He talks about being the architect of a movement to spread happiness, or “Zappiness,” via three “C”s: clothing, customer service, and company culture.

 Typing in the order rapidly, red flower decals on her fingernails, Jadkowski told Susie that it was Zappos’s tenth anniversary and upgraded her to V.I.P. status—which pretty much any Zappos shopper can attain, merely by asking. (The URL of the V.I.P. site is intended to encourage the intimate act of bookmarking, since a Google search for “sensible black pumps” or “running shoes” will also turn up the company’s competitors.) Male callers in particular seem to enjoy the upgrade, with its suggestion of velvet-roped back rooms. Susie, too, was pleased. “Oh, that’s fabulous!” she said. “This is super.”

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