Care makes our actions Human

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Google shows a whopping 4 billion hits on the word care, 127 million hits on the search term customer advocacy and no less than 1.5 billion on NPS.

Given the decline of the value of traditional marketing and the power of consumers, companies recognize the strategic value of serving customers. From this perspective it’s fair to say that if a company wants to retain their customers, and attract new customers, generating customer advocacy is key. Customer advocacy can only be generated when a company genuinely cares about its customers, as human beings. The concept of care is connected with care for family, children, parents or healthcare.

Care ensures commitment and involvement

The ethics of care however describe care as a much broader concept: as an essential form of involvement with the world.

Would ‘the world’ look different today if people had shown an essential form of commitment to and involvement with not just shareholders, but also with stakeholders such as employees and customers? Or, thinking of the COP26 climate deal, with the environment?

Since Fred Reichheld introduced the Net Promoter Score in 2003, the KPI that measures how consistently brands turn customers into ambassadors (customer advocacy), this KPI has become so popular that it is used in ways that, in Reichheld’s own view, damages its credibility. Reason for Reichheld, in his words, to rethink customer centricity.

Reichheld developed an additional parameter that is based on accounting results, not surveys. He introduces earned growth as the accounting counterpart to the Net Promoter Score, NPS 3.0, in his December 2021 book, Winning on Purpose: The Unbeatable Strategy of Loving Your Customers. His use of the word “loving” in the title of his book is illustrative of his view that business success begins with leaders who embrace the premise that their company’s primary purpose is to treat customers with care. That approach, he argues, results in loyalty, enabling sustainable and profitable growth.

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) stated: Care is the meaning of being (“Sorge ist der Sinne des Da-Seins”). Without care, being has no meaning.

What makes our actions human

Care creates meaning. Care makes us think and feel. It is what makes people’s actions human. Hence, care is what makes organizations human. An organization that does not care cannot create meaning for people as human beings, be it employees or customers.

The Dutch tax authorities are struggling with what has become known as the allowance affair, where citizens lost out against regulations and bureaucratization, against the gap between the administrative form and the content and intention of the work, against a thought construction, an illusion, a manageable excerpt from reality that had little to do with ordinary people’s existence.

An organization that is primarily a smooth-running factory is not able to create meaning. Its reason for being lies in its ability to run smooth better than any other factory. As soon as another factory runs more smoothly (i.e., more efficiently), it has lost its reason for being, or license to operate. What of the (quality of the) products it produces? Could there lie a ‘reason for being’ in those? Perhaps decades ago, but in this day and age, where markets are flooded with interchangeable products and services, the answer is no.

Where Treacy and Wiersema argued in their classic strategic triangle of operational excellence, product leadership and customer intimacy for excelling in one discipline, you now have to excel in all three, whereby operational excellence and product leadership are preconditions for customer intimacy.

Cannot be copied by competitors

Companies and brands need care as a differentiator. Care makes customers feel cared for, recognized, and appreciated as human beings. Care creates an emotional connection. The likelihood that customers will become ambassadors (advocates) for a company is high. Ambassadors recommend a company in the off- and online world. Customer advocacy cannot be bought; it is earned. Above all, Care creates a sustainable competitive advantage that cannot be copied by competitors.

Care times execution, multiplied by advocacy equals results. Care combined with operational excellence (a prerequisite), multiplied by advocacy impacts the (financial) results of a company (Results en Equity).

Next trick in the trade

What exactly is customer advocacy? How can you ‘create’ it? Customer advocacy is not the ‘next trick in the trade’. You cannot enforce it. Companies can only hope to generate it. You cannot pay a customer a premium to become an advocate. Generating customer advocacy takes time and the following two key characteristics in the way a company does business:
It requires consistency and continuity between what is felt, thought, said and done. Between who you are (the culture of a company), who you say you are (marketing communication and PR) and who people (employees, customers, consumers) say you are. Your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room.

Customer advocacy requires genuine ‘care’: sincere commitment to and involvement with the world in general, and people in particular. The next question, of course, is how can you generate customer advocacy?

This is my second blog in a cycle of articles on the theme “Recalibrating Care” in which I take you on a journey to what care and customer advocacy (NPS) mean for a sustainably successful and profitable organization and what is needed to generate customer advocacy, inspired by Fred Reichheld his newest book. Keep an eye out for my next blog in this cycle where I will address this question.

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