Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
April 1, 201011:25 AM

The Business Of Kindness

Is it that hard to be kind to one another? It's an important question to ask. Not just in life, but in business as well.

Is the simple act of having a culture of kindness going to affect the bottom line in a negative way? Meaning, can a business be both kind and profitable? We have seen examples where two seemingly conflicting concepts like this have worked together in harmony (look no further than companies that are both environmentally sound and also highly profitable).

Why isn't kindness the primary directive for more companies? Why is there a business culture and belief system that those who are kind usually come in last?

Here's where Social Media, Web 2.0 and this new interconnected business world comes into play: Companies are becoming more and more transparent. Not because they want to, but because they have no choice. Blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook and beyond are pushing (and publishing) the truth about companies - and how they're treating their consumers. Consumers have a platform, voice, publishing environment and audience that makes this easy... and free. The conversations that were traditionally held over dinner, at the water cooler or at the gym are now indexable and permanently present by doing a simple search on Google, Bing or Yahoo!

Everybody feels like they've been taken advantage of by some form of business at some point in their lives so these companies and brands are being called out, and they're reacting.

Some are more proactive than others, but make no mistake about it, this is a reactive action by companies. In a perfect world, they would prefer if customers would take their complaints and shove it (but please keep on buying their products and services). Early this coming June a new business book titled, Delivering Happiness, will be on store shelves. The book is written by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. Most people know Zappos as the hot footwear and clothing retailer that has taken the e-commerce world by storm, or for the recent acquisition of Zappos by Amazon, which paid close to $1 billion for the business.

In the book you'll discover that what really drives this profitable, likable and media-friendly company is amazing customer service.

Buying shoes seems like one of the more difficult things to do online, but Zappos has overcome this hurdle by initiating a radical and much-lauded customer service protocol. Sure, anything you buy is easy, simple and carefree to return, but it's the customer service people and how they interact with their consumers -  mail, phone and online - that has really changed the game. Hsieh himself is easily accessible on Twitter and Facebook, but that's not the main reason for Zappos's growth. Simply put: Zappos is a kind company when it comes to customer service.

It's the stuff of urban legend and myth...

In what has become the stuff of urban legend, there is a story of an individual who had a death in the family. Upon cleaning out their loved one's home they discovered many unopened boxes of Zappos shoes. Not knowing what to do, the person called Zappos. Without a receipt or knowing how long the shoes had been sitting in the closet, the customer service rep arranged to have the shoes picked up at no charge and a refund was made. Seems kind enough, but the individual who was dealing with a death in the family also received flowers and a note of condolence from Zappos the following day.

Where do you think that person religiously buys all of their shoes now? How often do you think that story gets told to family and friends? How many times has that story transcended this person's social graph to mass media outlets like this or to the online world? Does Zappos get it right 100 per cent of the time? Doubtful. Do consumers always feel like every brand interaction they have with the company is one of kindness? Probably not. Does being kind get people talking about, buying from, and loving a company like Zappos? Absolutely.

Transparency, openness and a company's ability to communicate in a real human way with consumers is quickly becoming commonplace.

If you're not listening, monitoring and responding to people and their concerns or accolades, your competitors will. The act of being kind to consumers is being forced upon companies, and we should all look to adopt it - not because our consumers are demanding it, but because it's the right thing to do.

What would your business look like if you made kindness a pillar of what you do?

Imagine an airline where ticket changes, seat assignment and checking baggage was the basic kind act they offered their customers. Imagine if everyone from the customer service reps, flight attendants and pilots all treated their customers and one another the same way they treat close family members. How much more would you pay for an airline ticket? How loyal would you be to them?

Kindness is the main trait we look for in new acquaintances. It's what we expect of our most personal relationships. We should demand it in business.

Ask yourself this: Which companies do you know that are genuinely kind - across the board - to their employees, customers and the community they serve? I asked this question to my online social network - on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I am sad to report that there was no mention of any company that populates the Fortune 1000 or one that is regarded as a top brand.

Mark these words, kindness will soon become the killer app and the winning business model (and that's no joke or April Fool's prank).

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- Montreal Gazette - Kindness pays off in this increasingly transparent world.
-
Vancouver Sun - Kindness a new approach to business.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Ed
    Mitch Joel

    I hope kindness becomes the norm again.
    It's been a lot of decades genuine friendliness and integrity were the norm.

    Excellent and important thoughts, Mitch.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  • Posted by Carolyn Slater
    Mitch Joel

    Very thoughtful blog post Mitch. I certainly gravitate towards kind companies and I hope you're right and Kindness will be come the killer app. Midwest Airlines is a kind company - they treat their customers respectfully and warmly.

    Reply
  • Posted by Claire Boyles
    Mitch Joel

    Great article thank you so much for writing it & getting it published in so many places to spread the word!!

    I will order the book, hopefully its available here in the UK.

    Its just so true- since I started out on my own this has been my policy, I don't always get it right & I'm not happy about that at all, but I aim to do the best I can, and I get results for my clients.

    Have you seen the new organisation they're setting up here in London? The Happiness Movement- there's a vacancy for Director http://www.youngfoundation.org/opportunities/vacancies/director-movement-happiness I'm seriously considering applying, it is after all what I set out to do by coaching people- supporting them in being happy, healthy & wealthy. Before I set out on my own I worked as an HR Manager, because when I went into the profession I thought I would be able to have a positive impact on employees happiness. Sadly, I realised that not being the Director in an organisation, I was unable to make the key decisions that really supports employees in being happy in their workplace.

    A happy employee=a productive employee = happy customers = a profitable business

    Reply
  • Posted by Tamsen McMahon
    Mitch Joel

    I've always said that all companies serve two bottom lines: one defined by profit, and the other defined by purpose.

    Nonprofits had that figured out a long time. Despite the "nonprofit" name, they HAVE to run a profit (or at least no deficit) in order to survive, grow, and most importantly, deliver on the mission they exist to serve.

    For-profit companies have missions, too. And I'd suggest, as you do, that the most successful ones' mission goes far beyond "make more money." For those businesses that see themselves as serving a larger purpose, making money becomes a side effect--a thing that happens not only as a result of their effective delivery on their purpose, but also a (literally) sustaining force.

    It makes sense: most of us have a hard time connecting in a concrete way with a purpose as abstract and company-centric as a "make more money" mission is. But we *can* connect, quite concretely and passionately, with a purpose that relates directly to us and our own interests.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kim McWatt
    Mitch Joel

    Enjoyed this post. Kindness could eventually become the competitive advantage for companies truly embracing this philosophy (and it's sad to say that it is a philosophy as not all companies truly engage with the customer on such a level).

    Reply
  • Posted by Edward J. Bebee
    Mitch Joel

    I've been listening to the audio book "On Equilibrium" by John Ralston Saul and he touches on this but from the aspect of the individual within the business who has to make these sorts of decisions and the pressures to decide against kindness, ethics, being green, etc. I recommend it.

    What's also interesting about Zappos is that, while they are profitable, they aren't making money hand-over-fist. Tony Hsieh seems very aware that kindness has a high cost but aside from being their competitive advantage, I get the impression it's just who the guy is.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mehrtash
    Mehrtash

    "by the pressures of the marketplace, the human race has civilized itself, it's a miracle!!", Roger Waters

    It will become the model or the hot application for most, but for some it will be their core philosophy, and some are trendsetters and others shall mirror!!

    Reply
  • Posted by T.J.
    Mitch Joel

    A few states in the U.S. have introduced L3C corporations. Essentially, these are for profit entities with strong social missions.

    Perhaps we’ll begin to see more “kind” companies as a result of the L3C status.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L3C

    Reply
  • Posted by Laural
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting post.
    And, I believe kindness is essential.
    Several years ago I worked for a shoe company and we worked with Zappos (when they were small - and not a household name). I *just* did customer service - they didn't need to impress me. But the way they treated everyone was amazing. Our sales reps loved them because of their attitude to all of us.
    I think that the attitude inside your company gets reflected out - in person & online.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jeremy Meyers
    Mitch Joel

    I dont think its that we've lost kindness. Kindness is always there in every interaction. It's more about it being pushed down and buried under layers of beaurocracy, politics, fear, policies, greed. The democratization and scaling of conversation that is happening online is necessitating the uncovering and stripping bare of these layers. It's a slow process for most, and many will fail, and many others will kick and scream and fight it the whole way, because the only way they know to measure themselves is based on how much money they can bring in that wasn't there before. $ is easy to measure on a spreadsheet, reputation and loyalty less so.

    I think we're getting there with the metrics, and we will get better as systems open themselves up.

    I also think that the big opportunity here is in CSR, and how the internet necessitates a shift in the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility from a siloed organization that donates 1% of profits to such-and-such organization to ACTUAL social responsibility.

    We are kindred spirits, in that I think we both dream of a utopia where companies interests lie in creating delight for their customers as often as possible. The pendulum is shifting. Slowly, but it is.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jaky Astik
    Mitch Joel

    Wait a second, what do you have to say about politeness?

    Reply
  • Posted by Kathy Hahn
    Mitch Joel

    Hey - what goes around, comes around. It never fails. Great article Mitch, thanks - the world needs a lot more kindness and it only happens one person at a time...

    Reply
  • Posted by soyoung kim
    Mitch Joel

    putting just 'kindness' as a successful business model will be a bit too tricky to deal with i think. definitely 'kindness' will be the part of the business model of the future. more and more online businesses are initiated by taking forms of open, media conscious and social network attracting platforms as u mentioned. Online is such huge wonderland and people or your future customers r out there for your potential products whatever they turn out to be. 'connecting people power's is so huge that i think being open and sociable is a essential and bottom line to make your business distinct there. kind business is really pleasant to be connected definitely.

    what concerns me is when 'kindness' becomes norm and trend they are inclined to degrade. i am a huge fan of your book "six pixels of separation' and i'm at page 210 now. i am impressed when u focus on sincerity and being helpful to others in business or community. that's where value of ur business comes from. u want to sell ur stuffs and make money but u also want to contribute and be a help to somehow i'm totally with u. however kindness seems a personality detector not a business detector.

    I have seen a few awesomely kind customer services models already. the company is one of your country's top. they treat their cutomers like king and tellers are graded by their customers' feedbacks after 5minutes work done. but behind the door their factory generated 9 luekemia detahs and the company denies any correlation between them. thier having been kind counts? maybe not. among very kind restaurnats there was a very rude and vulgar lady owned restaurant and it became a hit and people gather to hear the owner swear to them at their cost. because people have been tired of everybusiness being too kind. kindness as priority can easily become a dull thing i guess.


    i always was one of the people who wonder why kind people come in last in business. as one time sales person (a failure) i witnessed hundreds of deals took place with much less kind salespersons more often.


    i really would love to see kindness wins in business but can't stop wonder there should be other factor than kindness which wins the business. maybe online is
    a different world? i will keep my fingers crossed.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lisa Hickey
    Mitch Joel

    OOOOO! I’ll answer this question (she says waving her hand excitedly.)

    I have worked in advertising, a notoriously unkind business. I’ve actually been fired, or non-promoted, or told in reviews that I am “too kind”. (No worries, I’ve done fine despite those accusations, thank you.)

    But never for a moment did I change my core values. I simply added to my mantra list: “kindness is a good business strategy”. It is. It increases productivity among employees, it makes it easier to hire (and even fire) people. It helps with product development (the charge to designers: “make things that are actually helpful”). It creates “customer service” in a way that’s not an oxymoron. (for those above worried about business model, NOTE: it does have to be budgeted for. And, yeah, kindness get’s talked about.

    The reason that people I worked with saw kindness as a negative is because they thought that because I was kind I somehow wasn’t competitive, or aggressive towards goals, or concerned with ROI or didn’t want to push for creativity or innovation. None of those things could be further from the truth. What they couldn’t see was that I wasn’t being kind *in addition to* those things, but I was being kind in order to create an environment where those goals happened all the time.

    And then, along comes social media. And one of the most amazing things about social media is this: It teaches people how to be kind because they can immediately see the results of their kindness.

    Watch the results. I’m with you: kindness will soon become the killer app and the winning business model.

    LOVE this blog post Mitch. Many thanks for writing it.

    Reply
    • Posted by Donna
      Mitch Joel

      Totally agree! I, too, have lately been MIS-LABELED as too kind, too nice. I absolutely refuse to change my inner core being and my guide posts for life to stoop down to levels that are almost "inhumane" at their very core. I just don't believe that every business person has to be so overly aggressive that she/he turns off people we're trying to support and coach to the next level. I have achieved significant and meaningful roles in companies and community organizations without the pit bull stance. Not going to change it now!

      Reply
  • Posted by Ray Hiltz
    Mitch Joel

    The reason I follow your articles and listen so intently to what you have to say is because I really believe you get it. There are many social media "oracles" out there that teach the social media "how's" but few the "why's".

    I got exited about social media at first because I was very intrigued about this phenomenon that seemed to come out of nowhere and then in a tweet second, be on everyone's lips.

    But when I saw how it had changed the way people communicated and how that change had affected the "message" being communicated, I was hooked.

    As an unrepentant idealist, I believe that social media will change how companies manage both their workers and clients. Social Media doesn't work unless you listen. And listening to their clients and workers has not been what most companies have excelled in.

    Unfortunately, most companies suffer the from the same short sightedness as our politicians; it's all about fast results and the next short term gain.

    Hopefully, if you ask the question:"Which companies do you know that are genuinely kind - across the board - to their employees, customers and the community they serve?" again in a year, the response will be much more positive.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jon
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Thanks for a great post. I have your blog in my Reader list and really enjoy reading your insights. The culture of kindness is built into the DNA of Zappos and affects every interaction from the customers to our business partners and even among coworkers. Every interaction is given that courtesy and the service level doesn't drop or change, either.

    Edward J Bebee nailed it on the head in his comment. Tony is the best example of passion, focus, kindness and humility. I'm not saying that to get a raise. When the CEO knows and shows what is important to him and to the company and lives as an example, the rest of the company can't help but try our best to get it right!

    I don't mean to derail the comments here, sorry. I just wanted to say thanks for the great post!

    -Jon Culture Guide - Zapposinsights.com

    Reply
  • Posted by Deanna McNeil
    Mitch Joel

    I just don't think we can demand kindness. It's like demanding love? How true that actions speak louder than words. So just as we teach our clients how to implement social media skills and savvy, are we doing this ourselves? We'll never be able to legislate morality but we can pursue it individually ever day by how we handle our business and clients. I wholeheartedly agree with you, let's lead by example.

    Reply
  • Posted by Laurinda Shaver
    Mitch Joel

    Ok... the Catholic Church is not a business (cough, cough). I was raised Catholic, but not practicing. But I just finished watching the news and sat down to catch up on my blog reading.. and I can't help but marry your concept of kindness with the crisis the church is having right now.

    They messed up. They ask for forgiveness. But they don't get it. The populace has changed. Where in my mom's time, the church was seen as a power and authority, it is now seen differently. They need to be transparent. They need to level with you. They need to say.. "look... we did this, it was wrong, this is what we are doing to fix it... our deepest apologies. Please forgive us."

    They need to be kind. I wish they were reading your blog. Or buying shoes online.

    Reply
  • Posted by Wendy
    Mitch Joel

    Remember that book Random Acts of Kindness. Its seems like it would take less energy to be nice.

    Reply
  • Posted by Martijn Linssen
    Mitch Joel

    Most excellent, inspiring, and spot-on
    Just followed Alyssa Milano's RT

    Lately I've been contemplating on how Intimacy seems to be the differentiator to all: kindness is a good expression of intimacy

    Thanks Mitch!

    Reply
  • Posted by Deb Baxter
    Mitch Joel

    I loved this blog~ and haved shared it with my circle of influence. I really agree with your "Mark these words...."!!!

    Have you heard about the grassroots reawaking called 'Kindness Movement'? I found reference to your blog on their site today and I am glad I did. Good read.

    http://kindnessmovement.com/

    Reply
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