The power of authenticity
I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity recently.
I think it’s as a result of the stresses brought about by the pandemic that I’m experiencing a lot of inauthenticity in business. I’m being bombarded with emails, social media requests, and weird sales approaches from people purporting to be a friend. The favoured phrase is, ‘Having done some research on your organisation I have realised that we have [an offering] that would be valuable to you.’ You know, if they had done even the most basic research, they would realise their offer is not even remotely relevant to a niche consulting business – my current favourite is one for transparent screens inside the driver’s cab in my haulage fleet. My responses range from a quizzically raised eyebrow to a snort of derision and a click of the delete button. Of course, I’m making the wild assumption here that a human is involved at all. The other challenge for authenticity is the automated email/social media/sales approach. I’ve now got quite a few ‘bot’ contacts doing their best to chip away at authenticity.
Customers – we – know when things are not authentic; when what people say about their company doesn’t match what they do, or approaches are ill-researched and badly thought-out, or when people give lip service to providing customers with higher value but this doesn’t play out in their customer experience.
So, how to avoid inauthenticity and deliver authentic value?
Seeking authentic value
Authenticity is about being congruent in what you say, what you do, what you think, what you feel and what you mean. This applies equally at a personal level and at a company-wide level. Think about people you know who say one thing yet do another. Intuitively, you start to trust them less. You will certainly be less willing to rely on them when you need help. Many of us also sense when someone is not being true to themselves. We just ‘know’ it.
The same is true for businesses. We all have examples of a brand promise not being played out. These experiences can be big-ticket examples like VW and the emissions scandal or the mis-selling of payment protection insurance (PPI) in the UK. But more likely your bad experience was because of poor communication, missed deadlines or deliveries, or mishandling of a complaint. This leads to a bad experience that is at odds with the positive experience you expected and were ‘promised’.
When your customers get the value they are expecting from you (and hopefully more), you are much more likely to keep them as customers, because they get what they want, and they trust you. You and your company will also gain through the huge boost in confidence that comes from knowing exactly what value you deliver to customers and how you deliver it. Authenticity is generated.
However, when customers do not get what they are expecting, their negative experiences will loom large in their perception of you.
At Futurecurve, we encourage and enable our clients to understand and measure their value by using the equation:
Value = Benefits minus Costs²
Here, all the negative customer experiences (at the rational, emotional and socio-political levels) are represented by the word ‘costs’, and the positive customer experiences (at the rational, emotional and socio-political levels) are represented by the word ‘benefits.’ As humans are wired to look out for danger (negatives), we have squared the Costs element, meaning that – to hold value – your ‘benefits’ need to outweigh a multiplied ‘cost’.
Imagine you went out for dinner. The venue is welcoming, the food delicious and service efficient. Then your bill arrives, and you have been overcharged. You spend the next ten minutes in frustration, trying to get the error sorted out. What would you say to the friend who asked how your dinner went? I’ll tell you what I would say: “It was really nice, right up until we got the bill.” That’s the memory that would stick with you – and your friend who asked about it.
How do you make the positive experiences more memorable (or positive responses to when something goes wrong) and easier to recognise than any negative ones?
Think about your customers’ journeys and their holistic experiences while spending time with your organisation. Have you accounted for how many more times a customer will look out for, remember, and talk about their negative experiences? Are these outweighed by the positive things they will experience through working with you? If you don’t know or you’re uncertain, you really do need to find out.
Why should we care about authenticity?
It makes good business sense to deliver or portray authentic value to customers. You will keep hold of your customers and it is easier in the longer term because there is less to manage and manipulate. It becomes effortless and natural, rather than controlled and forced.
I would argue that, for your customers to have a positive experience, your business needs to feel confident about itself. Real, organisation-wide confidence happens when everyone in the business understands the value collectively delivered to, and experienced by, your customers.
You know when you’ve reached that when what happens inside your company is the same as you do outside it. You will not need whole departments of people manipulating and managing brand messages, because the brand messages are lived and experienced by your customers, suppliers, partners, and employees every day. A utopian ideal? Maybe, but certainly one worth striving for if you want to keep and grow value. If you are shifting from an older style of management that is more about command and control, making the transition is going to be harder. It will take concerted planning and tenacity but this behaviour change, harnessing 21st century leadership styles where more authentic approaches are used, can be achieved rapidly and with minimal trauma.
I’m a Director of a niche consultancy. I know as well as anyone how tough this time is for nearly all businesses. I do understand and empathise with the urgency and thus the allure of pushing message after message out there. There may even be a brief uptick in business but, I promise you, if the message is inauthentic and customers have poor value experiences, not only will the brief uptick in revenues not last but it will ultimately destroy value.
Authentic value, and the confidence that understanding brings to your people, leads to sustainable business.
Right, I’m off to bin a few more thoughtless, no-value emails and get in touch with some fabulous, authentic suppliers and partners.