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What Netflix’s Response to Tragedy Teaches Us About Being an Empathetic Business

A few Sundays ago, I felt the need to travel.

This was a bit of a problem since I had nowhere to go and certainly wasn’t going to leave my house on a ‘school night’ to head to the New Jersey shore, the Poconos, or to the airport.

Instead, I grabbed my iPhone and found an episode of Parts Unknown on Netflix that resonated with me and began cooking dinner. I had my own personal tour guide to a country I hardly ever thought of. It didn’t take long to remember why I love Parts Unknown as much as I do.
The Bourdain bug was back for me. I went digging through my DVR for his newest episodes and watched what has to be one of the best essays he’s ever produced – the Parts Unknown West Virginia episode. I was eager to see what more he had in store for his viewers, through season 11 and beyond.

Anthony Bourdain died just five days later. He was 61.

O Captain! My Captain!

The cruelly cosmic thing about my viewing of Parts Unknown as I cooked and ate was that I hadn’t felt compelled to watch anything related to Parts Unknown in recent weeks, even months.

I had been hooked on Hot Ones and Binging with Babish on YouTube, Matty Matheson’s roller-coaster ride on Vice, and David Chang’s Ugly Delicious on Netflix. The irony is that in all of these shows I was yearning to see Anthony Bourdain simply make an appearance on the show.

Bourdain’s influence on each gentleman was obvious; each has a wildly different style, but they’ve all taken what they could use best from Tony’s toolbox of storytelling. He was the captain of a new era; a pied piper for vagabonds looking to share their viewpoints with the world.

From my perspective, Anthony Bourdain was one of the best storytellers America had seen in 25 years, if not more. He was a poet in every sense of the word, crafting stories by observing the world; distilling both his vision and the perspective of those who introduced him to it on film.


Aside from his incredible trips abroad, Bourdain showed us a side of America we often don’t care to see. He showed us the grandeur of grunge in Seattle, Nashville’s nouveau riche, and the horrifying heroin problem in Provincetown, MA, just across the Cape Cod Bay in Boston.

I was far from the only one who was touched by his passing. All you had to do was take a peek at Twitter’s trending topics to understand that.
“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

In another strange twist of fate, Netflix’s time with Parts Unknown was about to expire. June 16th was scheduled to be the final day Bourdain’s program would be available on the platform. Users across the web began to talk about this fact more openly, concerned they wouldn’t be able to revisit their favorite Bourdain journeys, his guests, and most importantly – the poet, himself.

Fortunately, Netflix stepped up with compassion over commerce.

“Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.”

Businesses are started for a multitude of reasons.

Common among these reasons is creating a better life for yourself and your family. Sometimes that means having the opportunity to make money or to do things the way you feel they should be done.

Netflix is certainly not a family or small business, but with this decision, they acted as one. Taking stock of their customer’s hearts and minds strengthened the loyalty that many subscribers have to the company anyway. A move like this could not have been cheap but it was certainly the right thing to do.

Goodwill goes a long way for the human spirit. For all his admitted imperfections, Anthony Bourdain’s work grew to a level where his focus revolved around the good that can be found in the world. He had attracted a tribe by showing viewers what it was like to experience life in another way, one 45 minute essay at a time.

Having empathy in business affords us the chance to better understand our customer’s aspirations, their struggles, and curiosities.

Walking in someone else’s shoes was the human thing for Netflix to have done. As it turns out, it was also the best thing they could have done for their business, too.

Trust and loyalty are two of the greatest assets for businesses in 2018. Perhaps compassion is ready to join the elite duo, as well.

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