‘Gear geeks’ go whole hog to exceed RevZilla customer expectations

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 Adam Ponzek works as a 'Gear Geek' for RevZilla. His mullet is worth $1,500, if he doesn't cut it for a year. (Todd Bookman/WHYY)

Adam Ponzek works as a 'Gear Geek' for RevZilla. His mullet is worth $1,500, if he doesn't cut it for a year. (Todd Bookman/WHYY)

There’s $1,500 on the line. All Adam Ponzek has to do is keep his hairstyle decidedly mullet for one year.

“It is pretty ridiculous,” said Ponzek, remarking on the challenge — and his look.

The wager — and possible payout from management — speaks to the larger culture at RevZilla. A rapidly growing e-commerce company, RevZilla sells motorcycle gear and parts from its South Philadelphia headquarters.

The “gear geeks,” including Ponzek, serve as customer support, answering hundreds of daily calls and emails from bike enthusiasts. And they appear to have fun doing it.

‘Heckuva foundation’

From RevZilla’s earliest days as an e-commerce startup in 2007, customer service has been the priority.

“We were just starting out, with people getting on the phone saying, ‘I can’t believe you exist, I can’t believe how intelligent you are, and I can’t believe how much you knew, and the fact that you’d spend that much time with me,'” said co-founder and CEO Anthony Bucci.

“A heckuva foundation to build a brand on.”

Today, RevZilla has about 200 employees, nearly $100 million in annual sales, and 50 gear geeks working the phone lines.

And these are hard jobs to get: The call center staff earns 20 to 30 percent more in wages and benefits than the industry average.

“I am investing that dollar in making sure that every person who is potentially at the point of purchase, their expectations are beaten by talking to somebody that they wouldn’t expect to talk to,” said Bucci.

Decent salaries and a pipeline for promotion keep turnover low and morale high for the geeks, even during the holiday rush when phones are ringing nonstop.

“Right now, it is beginning to wane, but yeah, kinda nuts,” said Bucci. “All hands on deck for those guys, probably been for the past six weeks … and gals.”

Zen and the art of call centers

Occupying a brightly lit back corner of RevZilla’s offices in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the call center looks more Silicon Valley startup than cubicle farm. Everyone sits at open desks; the furniture is modern and clear of clutter.

“The design of our facility … is very non-traditional,” said Patrick Roscoe, RevZilla’s director of customer experience. “We’ve gotten away from the historically small 4-by-4 cubes that you’d see in any other contact center environment.”

Other startup touches are evident, including a gong to celebrate good online reviews, scooters to race around the hallways, and free lunch on Tuesdays.

To get a gear geek job, you need more than phone skills and endless patience. You’ve got to know the merchandise inside and out, and that means knowing bikes.

“Every gear geek here that supports customers rides a motorcycle. They know it, they are passionate about it, they are following forums, they are researching all the new products,” said Roscoe. “They geek out on everything new within the industry.”

The staff also gets to try out everything. RevZilla has a room full of gear staff members can use on weekend rides. It’s part of the culture here that separates this call center from some other area companies that don’t necessarily sport sterling reputations.

“Selling cable service all day long … I don’t know how passionate people truly are supporting cable box needs,” said Roscoe.

Heather Jarjisian, six months into the job as a geek, has a sticky note attached to her screen that reads “Be Annoyingly Thorough.”

“The people are awesome, the customers are awesome, it is just an excellent place to be,” she said. “Way better than any other job I’ve had.”

Life for the gear geeks calms down in mid-January, after all the holiday returns and exchanges are figured out. Then, in the spring, when bikers come out of hibernation, the phones will start ringing again.

By then, Adam Ponzek’s mullet will be even more ridiculous.

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