Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are You an Authentic Customer?

A lot is written about authentic leadership; but what about an authentic customer, does this phenomenon exist?

Do customers walk their own talk? For example, does the customer who complains about the lack of real effort and focus in corporate social responsibility avoid purchasing products or services from these organisations; only giving their custom to organisations that have a proven track record in CSR?

Do customers that complain about the lack of leadership in organisations, assess the leadership prior to their purchasing decision, or are the two mutually exclusive?

In fact is there any evidence that customers vote with their feet when organisations don’t meet their ‘values and ethics’; or does the average customer talk one thing but when it comes to the purchase decision walk in an entirely different direction?

Haven’t the majority of customers become lazy, convincing themselves that it won’t do any good to complain anyway and that all organisations are as bad as one another – so I might as well stay with the ‘devil I know’.

It’s in the interests of organisations to ‘fuel the flames’ on the debate about the power consumers have with negative rhetoric, implying that no amount of complaints will make a difference so why waste that valuable time by trying to make a difference.

But properly focused consumer activism has enormous power, especially coming out of a recession – but is the customer strong enough to ‘force’ organisations to change by withholding their purchases until change is effected.

Is the consumer really prepared to walk their own talk, even if it means employees in the non-compliant organisations losing their jobs? The consumer would be fully tested – the headlines could read ‘local consumer activists cause 500 jobs to be lost as they withhold purchases while demanding fully implemented CSR initiatives’.

How would that fit with the CSR debate – the loss of jobs because an organisation wouldn’t change – how far is the customer really prepared to ‘fight’ for their beliefs, for service and for ‘ethically’ run organisations.

If not then step aside and don’t engage in the debate, as you’re not really serious about change, and like many organisations only interested in being seen to embrace the socially acceptable rhetoric – which probably makes the consumer just as bad as the organisation. It’s like someone being against global warming and driving a gas-guzzling 4x4 – the two aren’t compatible

What the business world needs now are authentic customers who buy on the principles they openly talk about – this will effect change in the fastest possible way. Might some employees suffer along the way, until organisations are socially responsible – possibly. Will it be the right employees who suffer – no.

But to make change one has to stand by ones principles until the change is complete – otherwise the sad truth is that you were never actually that committed to the changes you advocated in the first place.

So are you an authentic customer? And if the answer is no, shouldn’t you become one?

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