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 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