The Elephant in the Room

August 7, 2011

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This family of elephants I saw in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park approached our jeep very slowly.

Last month I made my first trip to Africa — I went on a safari in Northern Tanzania. It’s a breathtaking landscape and the wildlife is unbelievable abundant. (I loved it so much, I’m planning my return for next year. If you have the opportunity to go, don’t hesitate.)

One of the most impressive encounters I experienced was with the elephants. There wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t see them. Sometimes we’d see just two or three, or other times, we would see dozens. And let me tell you, it’s nothing close to what you experience is at a zoo. It’s almost a spiritual experience.

There’s just nothing like seeing an animal in the wild, especially elephants.

Roll back tape to earlier this year and the episode with GoDaddy.com’s CEO Bob Parsons. For those that don’t remember, Parsons went to Africa on a different kind of safari — he wasn’t shooting photographs like me, he was shooting elephants. At the time, as Go Daddy’s PR team tried to explain away the PR black eye Parsons had given to their company, I remember shaking my head, thinking at the time, “They just don’t get it.”

They didn’t understand how Parsons was perceived or if they did, they couldn’t convince their CEO to act on their counsel. (Instead of apologizing for his actions, Parsons and Go Daddy tried to justify them.)

For several years Go Daddy had helped me with managing my domains and websites. The customer service they offer is superb and they are especially good for people like me who don’t have the technical expertise needed to run their own Website.

While I was upset with Parsons and I called GoDaddy to complain when the story broke, I didn’t act on my principles and move my business. Upon my return from Tanzania, having seen these majestic animals in the wild, I did.

I should have acted immediately, but I hesitated, fearing a technical hassle. (The truth is, it was pretty easy to do and I’m more than a bit embarrassed that it took a trip to Africa in order for me to move my business.)

The whole experience made me think about how often consumer-facing businesses are really unaware of how angry and alienated they have made their customers. (It also made me do an inventory of businesses I no longer do business with because of their corporate values — Chick-fil-A, I’m looking at you.)

It’s also made me think more about how businesses who don’t have corporate social responsibility plan, or at least act with a sense of being socially responsible, do so at their peril. Consumers increasingly are choosing to do business with companies who they perceive share their values.

How about you? Have you ever moved your business because of your principles? If you have, is there anything that business can do to win back your loyalty?

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