To cite but one shining example, I heard Tony Hsieh, CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos, address the Inc. Business Owners Council a couple of years ago in New York. He was promoting his (then) new book Delivering Happiness. What I remember about Hsieh’s appearance was a simple annecdote on service he shared. About pizza, of all things.
As background, Tony’s unique success at Zappos came from imbuing Zappos with a ubiquitous corporate culture focused on nonpareil service and customer care. His company succeeded by branding itself around, customer service, corporate ethics and dependability of deliverables. This became so embedded that Zappos’ service ethic extended way beyond normal good service.
The story he told in 2010 was this. Hsieh was at a sales conference in Santa Monica, CA and, after a night of bar hopping, came back with a group of friends to his hotel. The group decided they wanted a pizza. The hotel kitchen was closed. In a fit of drunken braggadocio, Hsieh recounts, he dared his friends to call Zappos customer service and ask for a phone number for a local 24 hour Santa Monica pizza delivery. They did and within two minutes were supplied with several numbers by the Zappos employee. Such was the broad-minded, unscripted service orientation Hsieh branded throughout his firm.
Creating a practical ethical, customer-centric company is about little actions, not grand idealistic mission statements. It is about making service like breathing. It’s about becoming habitually “good.” Tony Hsieh understood this in spades.
Michael Douglas, as “Gordon Gekko” in Wall Street, famously said, “Greed is good.” He had it exactly backwards–“Good is greed.” For the long-term entrepreneur, goodness and service make the putative rewards of business greed—money, success, status, and happiness—much more likely. Customers sense and smell goodness. They want to be around it and touch it. They intuitively trust it more than all the quantification analysis and sales explication in the world.
In a world frequently populated by rogues and thieves masquerading as benign capitalists, and in a world increasingly dominated by coldly efficient technology—oriented toward dehumanizing, distancing, and quantifying those pesky customers—branding one’s company as humane and caring in all the simplest human interactions is invaluable. It builds trust, reputation, good will and value for the long term. This is not Pollyannaish. It is really practical greed. It is the ultimate selfishness.
Per creating a culture of goodness, Aristotle said, “It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions.” Thank you, Aristotle.