Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
The one that sent us the flowers
Corporate emotional intelligence is a thing. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
the long-awaited “best of Understandably” book, and
a new one on emotional intelligence.
With the second one in mind, I've been collecting examples of corporate emotional intelligence recently: times when companies managed to make emotional intelligence part of their culture, and learned to use it to persuade customers, recruit workers, and generally accomplish all the things they need to do.
When it works, it’s interesting to me how you can quickly identify both (a) the goal they're trying to achieve, and (b) the emotions they're trying to leverage. Let's take a look at a half-dozen examples—both recent and classic—that illustrate the point.
A few years ago, our pet cat died, and my wife contacted online pet supply company Chewy to ask if we could return some expensive cat food. The company’s reaction: They not only refunded our money and told us to donate the food to an animal shelter, but they sent us flowers and a nice card.
Did it work? Well, fast-forward to October when we got a new puppy. What online pet supply company did we immediately think of? Right: The one that sent us the flowers.
I truly don't know if we would have remembered the company except for how they reacted to our grief. And since it's usually more efficient to retain a loyal customer than to find a new one, Chewy achieved its goal.
Goal: Retain loyal customers.
Emotion(s) leveraged: Feelings of sadness and grief.
I interviewed the owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A franchise in Florida not long ago after he rolled out a new, voluntary, full-time schedule: just three days per week, but with 13 to 14 hours per day. The upside for employees is that they know their schedules far ahead of time, and that they get much bigger blocks of time off.
"On a business side of it, it was really I was searching for consistency," owner Justin Lindsey told me," adding: "We posted a job on Indeed, and we have 429 applications in a week. It was like two lines: 'Work three days a week, get full-time hours.'"
Goal: Hire and retain good employees
Emotion(s) leveraged: Feelings of freedom and control
I think this is my most recent example: In November, Airbnb announced a bunch of changes to how it lists properties for rent—things that people had been complaining about for quite a while—like adding a way for renters to see the full price with fees, by default (instead of having them added in at the last step).
The emotional intelligence component had to do with how the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky framed the announcement, not just announcing what the changes were, but beginning by acknowledging people's deep emotional need to be heard:
"I've heard you loud and clear. You feel like prices aren't transparent and checkout tasks are a pain."
Goal: Convince a skeptical customer base to return.
Emotion(s) leveraged: Feelings of power and being heard.
The late Tony Hsieh had a policy at Zappos called, "The Offer." After a week or so on the job, new employees were given a choice. Keep working, or quit with a $1,000 bonus.
It wasn't altruism; Zappos was better off without employees who didn't want to be there. But, it was such a good idea—and such a good example of corporate emotional intelligence—that when Amazon acquired Zappos, Amazon began offering fulfillment center employees up to $5,000 to quit.
Goal: Cultivate a team that cares about more than money
Emotion(s) leveraged: Feelings of purpose (or lack thereof)
Recently, Stripe laid off 14 percent of its employees (see what I mean?). There's no good way to lay people off, but there certainly are bad ways. Stripe’s way of doing it minimized anxious moments and showed remaining employees how they'd be treated in similar circumstances.
Stripe CEO Patrick Collison took the blame, made sure that all employees knew within 15 minutes whether they were personally affected, and benefits were generous. It would be hard to find a better way to make this kind of announcement.
Goal: Loyalty and devotion among employees
Emotion(s) to be leveraged: Feelings of anxiety and fear
Let's turn the page for our last example, because emotional intelligence is sometimes about using people's emotional weaknesses to your advantage. No company understands this better than Apple, which releases every new product with a FOMO (fear of missing out, if you didn't know) veneer.
The underlying message isn't just that it has cool products; it's that if you miss this, you're obsolete. For proof that Steve Jobs understood this fear deeply, just think about what he said during his much-touted commencement speech at Stanford in 2005:
"Death ... clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true."
Goal: Customer sales and revenue
Emotion(s) to be leveraged: Feelings of fear (and of death!)
Many more examples and tips
I’ve written quite a few articles about emotional intelligence over the years, and I’ve become more fascinated by the subject as I’ve gone along.
The main takeaway that I want to scream from the rooftops sometimes is that emotional intelligence is not just about being nice to people or even having empathy, although those can be nice side-benefits. Instead, it’s about learning to leverage emotions to make it more likely you'll achieve your goals.
I think it’s a really interesting question: Can you build a culture around emotional intelligence—and should you? So far, my answers to those questions are yes … and maybe.
But I’m still learning. And, I’d love to hear about more examples of organizations acting with emotional intelligence, if you can think of any. Let us know in the comments.
7 other things worth knowing today
Anyone who thought FTX co-founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s political contributions would save him from prosecution was wrong.
The indictment against SBF was unsealed, and it's very serious: eight counts involving wire fraud and conspiracy that could mean decades in prison.
He’s now being held without bail in a notoriously rough prison in the Bahamas, with his next court appearance set for February.
Also, Bankman-Fried was supposed to testify in Congress via video before his arrest, and he apparently intended to open by saying: "I would like to start by formally stating, under oath: 'I f***d up.'" (Mediate, Daily Mail, Forbes)
Good news and not so good on inflation: Americans are saving money at the gas pump, only to spend it in the produce aisle, as oil and grocery prices moved in opposite directions last month, and the overall inflation rate declined slightly. (NPR)
President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act Tuesday. A quick note on what it does, as I've seen some mistakes elsewhere; the law requires states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed elsewhere. It doesn't require states to perform same-sex and interracial marriages themselves. (ABC News)
Netflix says its documentary series about Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan racked up more viewing time on the streaming service than any other documentary during its first week, after more than 28 million households watched at least part of the series. (NASDAQ)
Meat consumption in Brazil, the world’s biggest beef and chicken exporter, fell sharply this year as rising food prices curbs demand. What’s most curious: more than 90% of Brazilians say they don’t want to return to their past meat-eating habits. (Bloomberg)
A large swath of Americans across the religious spectrum believe they are living in the last days of humanity, a recent study showed. Nearly two in five Americans, including both Christians and the religiously unaffiliated, responded affirmatively when asked if they believe "we are living in the end times," according to a Pew research study published last month. (Fox News)
The NBA MVP award has been renamed The Michael Jordan Trophy, the league announced Tuesday. Jordan is a five-time MVP so he has five trophies named for Maurice Podoloff — the league's first commissioner. But after six decades of the award bearing Podoloff's name, the NBA decided the time was right to rebrand. (ABC 7)