The Cutthroat Fallacy: Why Being an Asshole is Bad Business

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Cross posted on the Shankman|Honig Blog as well.

“Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel.” –Gordon Gekko

In the 80s, in the days of Michael Milken and Gordon Gekko, the rule on the street was “eat your young.” Nice guys finish last, hold your information, keep the rules to yourself, and win at all costs, no matter who you have to trample.

Today, with the advent of mobile technology and 24-hour-connectivity, those days are long gone. And those who have yet to realize that are on their way to being eliminated. If your company isn’t “nice” from the top down, your profits will suffer.

In this new era of openness, the ticket to a winning company, a winning portfolio, and yes, even a winning personal relationship, starts with being nice. I’ve spent the past two years examining companies big and small, and one thing plays out, over and over again: Being nice is more profitable than being a shark, and in the end, being a shark will actually cost you money, and over time, your business.

In the summer of 2011, Morton’s Steakhouse noticed a tweet jokingly asking if they’d deliver a Porterhouse to a weary traveler who was about to land at Newark Airport. The tweet was sent to make people laugh, not to expect a response. I know, because I sent it. Upon landing at Newark, I found my driver, and a tuxedo-clad waiter next to him, with a Porterhouse steak, a side of shrimp, and all the fixings. The waiter’s comment to me, as I stood aghast? “We heard you were hungry.”

When I got home, I wrote a blog post about my experience, complete with the photo of me and the waiter I’d taken with my phone. (I challenge you to find one customer in your stable without a mobile phone, a camera within said phone, and Internet access from that phone tying it all together.) Within 24 hours, that post had gone viral, and two days later, the “Morton’s at the airport” story had made it onto the Today Show. There’s no doubt that Morton’s first-time customer numbers spiked, as well as their revenue.

Ignoring the customer, whether they’re happy or angry, simply isn’t an option anymore. Any customer with a mobile phone is talking about their experience, whether that experience is positive or negative, and whether you as a company are involved in the conversation or not. This is simply a fact.

Sorry, Gordon… Your time has passed.

This isn’t simply a US trend, either. More people are connected via mobile networks overseas than in America, and the US is just catching up. Within seconds of a company “dissing” a customer overseas, the information is captured, posted, and shared to networks around the globe. On the global stage, being nice wins customers and new business as well.

It’s up to you as a company, from the CEO down, to teach every employee to create magical moments for every customer. Why? Because for the first time, customers are responsible for a huge percentage of your PR. Sure you have a PR firm – But guess what? The customer who got the upgrade, who got the extra service, heck, who got something as simple as the genuine smile at check-in – That’s the customer who’s going to tell their network about it. And understand, everyone’s network is only getting bigger as time goes on, it’s never getting smaller.

So the new rules? Nice wins. As companies learn to empower their employees with the ability to be nice, those companies will see their message spreading. They’ll see their brand growing, and they’ll see their loyal customers bring in more and more loyal customers, and so on, and so on. It all starts by being nice.

The call to the enlightened CEO is this: The old “kill your young” way of doing business is over. Without joining this new movement of “nice,” your business will simply fade away. More than ever, consumers have the ability to choose with whom they want to do business. And with those choices being made more and more from the recommendations of those within our personal network, the chances of maintaining the old school “they’ll get it the way we like it” mentality and still keeping your customers is growing slimmer by the day.

  • tom troja

    Peter… your portrayal of the ’80’s is built on a cliche. You kinda forget to mention that Gordon Gecko was a character in a Oliver Stone movie directed to be unlikable… hate to break it to you… he was not real. When I was at Disney in the ’80’s…their benefits where light years better than they are today and culturally and socially it was a much friendlier place to be… same with my time at CBS. I get your point about being nice wins… especially in this connected world… but the challenge for brands today is not just the actions that portray you are nice but in having practices and policies that create the culture that supports it. So… what was truly nicer and able to build a honest social foundation on that asset… the ’80’s company that hired me and paid a decent salary to a 22 year old or todays world where that company offers an unpaid internship where a 22 year old have to beat out 5 peers to work for free while the gov’t bills them $600 a month to pay a $200,000 student loans… who is really eating their young?

    • shankman

      OK. Let’s replace Gordon Gekko with Bernie Madoff. He hired interns. He was a “good guy” to all his employees… That obviously ended well. 🙂

  • tom troja

    Peter… your portrayal of the ’80’s is built on a cliche. You kinda forget to mention that Gordon Gecko was a character in a Oliver Stone movie directed to be unlikable… hate to break it to you… he was not real. When I was at Disney in the ’80’s…their benefits where light years better than they are today and culturally and socially it was a much friendlier place to be… same with my time at CBS. I get your point about being nice wins… especially in this connected world… but the challenge for brands today is not just the actions that portray you are nice but in having practices and policies that create the culture that supports it. So… what was truly nicer and able to build a honest social foundation on that asset… the ’80’s company that hired me and paid a decent salary to a 22 year old or todays world where that company offers an unpaid internship where a 22 year old have to beat out 5 peers to work for free while the gov’t bills them $600 a month to pay a $200,000 student loans… who is really eating their young?

    • shankman

      OK. Let’s replace Gordon Gekko with Bernie Madoff. He hired interns. He was a “good guy” to all his employees… That obviously ended well. 🙂

  • tom troja

    Peter… your portrayal of the ’80’s is built on a cliche. You kinda forget to mention that Gordon Gecko was a character in a Oliver Stone movie directed to be unlikable… hate to break it to you… he was not real. When I was at Disney in the ’80’s…their benefits where light years better than they are today and culturally and socially it was a much friendlier place to be… same with my time at CBS. I get your point about being nice wins… especially in this connected world… but the challenge for brands today is not just the actions that portray you are nice but in having practices and policies that create the culture that supports it. So… what was truly nicer and able to build a honest social foundation on that asset… the ’80’s company that hired me and paid a decent salary to a 22 year old or todays world where that company offers an unpaid internship where a 22 year old have to beat out 5 peers to work for free while the gov’t bills them $600 a month to pay a $200,000 student loans… who is really eating their young?

    • shankman

      OK. Let’s replace Gordon Gekko with Bernie Madoff. He hired interns. He was a “good guy” to all his employees… That obviously ended well. 🙂

    • shankman

      OK. Let’s replace Gordon Gekko with Bernie Madoff. He hired interns. He was a “good guy” to all his employees… That obviously ended well. 🙂

  • David Novich

    Great article! Unfortunately, many people still think that nice guys finish last, and that the ends always justify the means. And my pet peeve: when someone admits to being an obnoxious person, and then continues to act that way.

  • David Novich

    Great article! Unfortunately, many people still think that nice guys finish last, and that the ends always justify the means. And my pet peeve: when someone admits to being an obnoxious person, and then continues to act that way.

  • David Novich

    Great article! Unfortunately, many people still think that nice guys finish last, and that the ends always justify the means. And my pet peeve: when someone admits to being an obnoxious person, and then continues to act that way.

  • I agree with you Peter. As business owner who relies heavily on referrals and the voice of my network within my social media outlets, I never take anyone who takes the time to connect with me for granted, even after 11 years. Plus, being nice does go a long way. I was recently stricken terribly with food poisoning after eating a horrible restaurant. In addition to getting sick, the service was horrible, the food being disappointing and the kitchen getting my order wrong, it was their smug attitude about it all that bothered me, along with their lack of any remorse or concern after finding out I had fallen ill. You better believe that I was more than happy to give the place a horrible review…and I’m hardly one of those “I need to complain on social media” types. Had they shown some degree of interest in how horribly lacking everything was, I probably would have dealt with it differently. Truly, it wasn’t the situation but how it was handled that was the hardest to deal with….well, that and being up at 3am sick as a dog.

  • I agree with you Peter. As business owner who relies heavily on referrals and the voice of my network within my social media outlets, I never take anyone who takes the time to connect with me for granted, even after 11 years. Plus, being nice does go a long way. I was recently stricken terribly with food poisoning after eating a horrible restaurant. In addition to getting sick, the service was horrible, the food being disappointing and the kitchen getting my order wrong, it was their smug attitude about it all that bothered me, along with their lack of any remorse or concern after finding out I had fallen ill. You better believe that I was more than happy to give the place a horrible review…and I’m hardly one of those “I need to complain on social media” types. Had they shown some degree of interest in how horribly lacking everything was, I probably would have dealt with it differently. Truly, it wasn’t the situation but how it was handled that was the hardest to deal with….well, that and being up at 3am sick as a dog.

  • I agree with you Peter. As business owner who relies heavily on referrals and the voice of my network within my social media outlets, I never take anyone who takes the time to connect with me for granted, even after 11 years. Plus, being nice does go a long way. I was recently stricken terribly with food poisoning after eating a horrible restaurant. In addition to getting sick, the service was horrible, the food being disappointing and the kitchen getting my order wrong, it was their smug attitude about it all that bothered me, along with their lack of any remorse or concern after finding out I had fallen ill. You better believe that I was more than happy to give the place a horrible review…and I’m hardly one of those “I need to complain on social media” types. Had they shown some degree of interest in how horribly lacking everything was, I probably would have dealt with it differently. Truly, it wasn’t the situation but how it was handled that was the hardest to deal with….well, that and being up at 3am sick as a dog.

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