Authenticity: How well do you know your Customers?
I have been writing a great deal about authenticity lately – partly because of the response which I have had to my article published in Management Services earlier in the year. It has attracted attention from both HR and Sales people, simply because it was an attempt to examine the changes in trends and patterns in demographics. It is here that I draw out the concept of Authenticity.
The piece was entitled ‘Millennials: Researching the Application of Demographics to Build Customer Relationships and an HR Strategy’. The article related to how changing attitudes and expectations are shaping our commercial landscape – not just in terms of examining the driving forces and motives of the people we employ, but also people as consumers and customers.
The central thesis is that we are now operating in a complex society where the values of baby boomers, Generation X, Y and Millennials can come into conflict. My understanding is that the only way to manage potential conflicts between these groupings is to explore the motivations and design strategies to appeal to each whether it be within a commercial sale, or employment relationship.
What is Authenticity?
When one is operating from the stance of ‘authenticity’ one usually displays a genuine candour. To be authentic, one has to be credible, honest, faithful to your values and display integrity. In other words an authentic person ‘does what he values and values what he does! Thought and deeds are congruent.
Living in a hectic FMCG world where spin and game playing characterizes too much of life, people are genuinely seeking a purer simpler more honest way of behaving and living. Authenticity is partly a rejection of the excesses of the 80’s and 90’s and the early part of this century, when selfishness and the ‘Me’ culture predominated.
Increasingly, we crave ‘authenticity’ in our business and personal dealings and relationships. It is very much a process of getting back to basics.
Too Much Spin
Many believe that companies need to be more honest in their dealings and relationships with their customers. This makes good sense, because the alternative is to lose customers. More and more consumers and customers are shunning those companies and service providers are not ethic or authentic when interacting with their customers.
Consumers who feel they have been duped by companies soon find alternative service providers. Organisations that put too much spin on their investor and public relations soon lose their market share.
Twenty years ago Gerald Ratner lost his prosperous business following the ‘off the cuff’ remark that a stainless steel tea set which had been a best seller, was worth less than a M&S Prawn Sandwich! That disrespect spread faster than a virus. Alienating the customers directly or otherwise through falsehood and deception equally drives customers and consumers to look for authenticity.
The Politics of Change
In Recent years we have witnessed a huge rise in Spin, not just in the market place but arising from our Political masters and decision makers. There is a lack of congruity with what our Politicians say and how they live their lives. We have seen marketing, PR and spin applied with intensity so much so that the population has become mistrusting and cynical towards Politicians and certain Governmental institutions and agencies.
It is hardly surprising that turnout at General Elections is falling when we consider the large number of stories of politicians who were less than truthful and honest in their personal lives. People no longer trust their political masters or the institutions which were built to serve us. People are wary and their trust has to be won back. This becomes a real problem when a scandal hits the press and the majority of us become even more cynical. We crave authenticity.
The Business Impact of lack of Authenticity
Falling consumer confidence breaking creates huge problems for businesses. Failing to understand the importance of the ‘authentic consumer and customer can seriously put any business at risk.
The Authentic Consumer
I draw a distinction between what I call ‘Loyalist’ and ‘Authentic’. The decades of the Loyalist are very quickly disappearing. Loyalist behaviour is typified by conformist purchasers who purchase products and services very much on a commodity basis. They have always done things a certain way that makes them feel comfortable, and the loyalty remains.
These people are motivated by convenience to themselves and don’t want to mess about with alternatives. As a group they are poorly informed and don’t seek market intelligence. If they did, they may change their decision making. They have limited choice, lack curiosity and very much driven by the crowd.
Authentics on the other hand are highly independent and individualistic. They may even be the ‘maverick type,’ looking for services and goods that rejecting conformity as a way or life. They are well informed and require being positively and actively involved in decision-making. They would dislike a service provider imposing standards on them – they love their individuality and the options they have to make a choice.
Above all they value authenticity. Like the Millennials (see article) they want their specific needs to be met. They believe that they are special and their specific needs have to be met. Often, they are distrustful of big business and prefer to deal with those who portray ethical standards of behaviour.
Authenticity and the New Consumer: New Trends
The ‘Authentic’ strives for self-actualisation taking charge of their future. In organisations, Authentics place a great deal of emphasis on their personal and career development. They do not like to be controlled or managed closely. They have trust in their competencies and expect others to trust them in how they transact business. They expect to be respected for their striving and achievement, and don’t seek approval, just equitable reward for a well done job.
They value their credibility above all things. They are high achievers who expect that their rewards are commensurate with the effort expended. They value originality and their give their energy to those tasks which will reward their individuality. They can be extremely selfish and have their needs in mind most of the time.
New Consumers or Authentics are impatient. They want things today, not tomorrow. They are not prepared to wait for dead man’s shoes – they want the challenge and the opportunity now. They don’t want to wait to see what happens. They want tangible outcomes and honest feedback on their progress. They don’t suffer fools.
Loyalty is out. Just because a service provider has met their needs over a long period of time is no excuse for screwing up. They feel no loyalty. If the Bank which they have been customers since University lets them down – they will not be like the majority of customers and put up with it – they will be off looking for a better provider straight away. Authentics are turning the tide on customer loyalty. They give you one chance and then you are out.
The Loyalist is driven by convenience, habit and necessity and can be bribed with loyalty cards. The Authentic rejects all this and wants at best a tailored service to their wants.
Why are Authentics so Individualistic?
They have witnessed too much unethical behaviour which can range from the numerous Political scandals spin and chicanery to the Enron scandal, British Rail fiasco, Northern Rock catastrophe, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and all the other media stories that indicate that institutions and people in the public eye do not match their words and deeds. Also, on a personal level we are time poor. There is just so little time left at the end of a busy week. As a nation we probably work far longer hours, commute further, pay more for transport and generally are the most heavily taxed in Europe. No wonder we seek authenticity, honesty and fairness.
Too many new Scarcities
There are just too many scarcities, including the scarcity of time itself. We suffer from a scarcity of attention – there is never enough time to process things and events. Everything has to be done now. Increasingly, we display a short attention span. Authentics don’t want to give things a second chance. You get it wrong buddy and you are out!
Little Mutual Trust
As each day passes we see more and more scandals hitting the headlines. Politicians and business people with their ‘head in the trough’ does nothing to align Authentics with traditional institutions. Their cynicism runs far ahead of any fast breaking news story. There are just too many exposѐs, each of which fuels the cynicism the Authentic feels.
Loyalty & the Authentics
Limited research suggests that only about 20% of Authentics feel no loyalty to a supplier or provider of a service. They view each transaction independently. This contrasts strongly with Loyalists who, 70% of the time demonstrate loyalty to a provider or supplier of a service.
Authentics are 70% more open to better offers compared to less than 30% of Loyalists. Further a large percentage of Authentics think of Loyalists as foolish, which may be proven by the fact that 50% of Loyalists say they would never leave a current provider.
Authentics: Implications for Service Providers
Providers have to win the hearts and minds of the new consumer, the Authentic and do this in a novel way. The Authentic has to be convinced that providers will take a unique approach to resolve their problems.
Providers have to provide real ‘value added,’ not dressed up in intangible benefits. Many Authentics will not display brand loyalty – although they may have a quality preference, they will always run by alternatives.
Providers will have to appeal to the life style of the Authentic and their personal values. The best way of dealing with this is to assess what causes the Authentic pain, and what can the provider do to alleviate that? Providers have to appeal to the life style of the Authentic Millennial.
Finally, we all need to realise that the modern man and woman of today are Authentic in their attitude and their tastes and this means that any company needs to adopt proactive customer management. Advertising has to reinvent itself and recognise that the Authentic is a butterfly, who can make or break your business whether they be an employee or a customer.
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