Be Authentic to Create Engaged Customers

Soundview’s editors had the opportunity to speak with Jim Champy about his book Inspire! Why Customers Come Back. In this excerpt, they talk about the value customers are looking for, making your message authentic and connecting people through a product or idea.

Soundview: You state early on in your book that customers are looking for a deeper connection with the companies from which they buy. Can you talk about how this has developed over the past several years?

JC: Customers today want more than a product or a service. They’re looking for value in a different form. They want to buy products and services from companies that are consistent with the customer’s own values. I was struck while doing the research for Inspire with how companies are really engaging customers at a value level.

I write in the book about a company called Honest Tea, a company whose name represents the kind of honesty and authenticity that it attempts to represent. It connects with its customers at a values level. I found many examples of companies that are doing that, and there are many customers today that want more than just a superficial relationship with the companies with which they’re doing business.

[For example] Stonyfield is one of the companies that was relating to its customers on a values level. They had a great product, but they are very committed to the environment and producing environmentally sound products. They were very early in the so-called ‘Green Revolution.’ This was a company that was persistent in how it went to market to build its customer base, which, by the way, is a very, very difficult market to break into. This is a big consumer products market, so it took incredible persistence. It required the founders of the company themselves to be out handing out samples of their product. They had a sustained commitment to their values about the environment.

Soundview: You make a point of stating in Inspire, ‘Make sure your message is authentic and represents who you really are.’ What is it that causes businesses to fall prey to promising one experience but delivering a poorer version? How can companies combat this common problem?

JC: There are several principles of authenticity that you have to practice to avoid this trap. The first is that authenticity must pervade everything you do, from formulating the product to your relationships with your own people to your relationships with customers and suppliers and, more broadly, how your company operates. If you’re Honest Tea, you’d better be honest in everything you do. The same is true for Stonyfield.

Second, being authentic requires having a set of principles about transparency. You need a willingness to be transparent. In some sense, you have to be so pure that you’ve got to be willing to put everything you do out there so customers and the public can see what you do. If you want to be committed to a higher sense of purpose, you also have to be committed to being very transparent. I also believe that companies really have no choice today other than to increase their degree of transparency.

Thirdly, whatever promises you make must work in a business context. If you say you’re for-profit, you better be for-profit. I’ve often found that there are companies in the private sector that are committed to a higher purpose but what they fall prey to is a lack of business discipline.

Finally, from a marketing perspective, whether you have a higher purpose or not, customers define in their minds who you are and what your company stands for. You can put advertising out there to capture the interest and attention of your customers, but they decide for themselves and they broadcast it on the Internet.


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