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The 7 Principles for Being Mindful of People and Society in Customer Friendliness


What is customer friendliness? Specifically, what do customers consider to be customer-friendly? What makes them happy and why do they return to certain brands and businesses? This appears to depend heavily on societal developments and the current context. What was considered remarkably customer-friendly fifteen years ago is now just about the minimum threshold for acceptable service. Ordered today, delivered tomorrow? Duh!

Over the seventeen years that MarketResponse has been researching the most customer-friendly companies in the Netherlands, we’ve observed clear shifts in customer appreciation. First, the gap between scoring well and poorly is becoming smaller. This is largely thanks to a large group of companies closely following the leaders in customer friendliness. Secondly, well-functioning customer processes (easy ordering process, quick delivery, adequate customer service) are no longer truly distinctive: most companies have managed to get this right. The third development is the societal responsibility that companies now assume and how this is appreciated by customers. I’d like to zoom in on this last point.

Customers increasingly find it important for companies to operate responsibly. The byproduct of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is more loyal customers. The University of Groningen (RUG) and MIcompany demonstrated in a study in 2017 that organizations in the fight for customers distinguish themselves not only through good service and offering exceptional customer experiences. The responsibility that companies take for the welfare of society is also a defining factor for differentiation.

The loyalty of customers – reflected in the percentage that remains a customer after two years – is seven percent higher at organizations that, in the eyes of their customers, contribute more to society. The researchers analyzed customer appreciation for CSR initiatives of 93 brands across eighteen sectors. This appreciation was compared to purchasing behavior two years later. For all companies studied, investments in CSR have an indirect positive effect on customer loyalty. CSR-conscious consumers think before they buy, making conscious choices. This creates a stronger bond, and because they make more mindful choices, they are also very critical. Therefore, from a principle of Corporate Social Responsibility often goes hand in hand with commercial success, according to the study.

Don’t cut corners

Now, this is an observation that tempts some companies to cut corners. They claim to follow a green and socially responsible policy, but bring little of it into practice. This is a dangerous strategy. Nowadays, customers quickly see through this and penalize those companies. Research by MarketResponse and b-open in 2023 shows that nearly half (42%) of customers feel distrust towards companies’ sustainability claims. They are wary that some companies are merely putting a green veneer over their offerings or making empty promises. This raises the question of when consumers actually consider a company to be green and socially responsible.

From a large-scale consumer study conducted by MarketResponse in 2019, seven principles emerged that consumers implicitly use in norming and appreciating companies. These seven principles practically indicate what a company needs to have in order to be seen as a green or social business. What are these principles?

Principle #1: Be honest with customers and the supply chain

The foundation of being mindful of people and society is conducting business honestly with the customer. A customer understands that a business wants to make money but expects the company to be honest in its communications and in its dealings with customers. Not an earth-shattering principle, but the foundation nonetheless.

Principle #2: Reduce waste and recycle as much as possible

The second principle concerns waste reduction and recycling. How much packaging material does a company use, and how can this amount be reduced? In what ways can a company ensure that packaging materials, the products themselves, or the raw materials can be recycled?

Principle #3: Make production and transport more sustainable

Especially in the manufacturing industry, but also for online retailers, the sustainability of production and transport is an important issue for consumers. Many companies are now also trying to minimize necessary transport and the number of transport movements and to opt for more environmentally friendly transport options.

Principle #4: Ensure a more diverse workforce and a better working environment

The fourth principle is about people. For consumers, the way companies treat their employees matters. Thus, safe and pleasant working conditions and an inclusive company culture where everyone can find a place and be appreciated are important.

Principle #5: Help customers be more sustainable

Consumers find it important that a company is not only sustainable itself but also encourages and helps its customers to be sustainable. For example, IKEA aims to inspire consumers to live more sustainably at home by offering them more sustainable products that are recyclable and require less water and energy. Another example: some supermarkets encourage the use of organic, locally grown foods by putting them on sale and including them more often in recipes.

Principle #6: Be involved in your immediate surroundings

Consumers appreciate it when companies show that they have a clear connection with the immediate environment. For example, by supporting local initiatives and charities in the place of business or by contributing to the well-being of the residents of the place where the products’ raw materials come from.

Principle #7: Be mindful and caring towards animal welfare

The seventh green principle is about animal welfare. This principle is especially relevant for leisure companies that work with real animals or cosmetic brands (animal testing) and, of course, supermarkets and the hospitality industry where it concerns organic or animal-friendly products.

Link with the 17 SDGs

Many of the seven principles, which emerged from our large-scale consumer study in 2019, have a link with The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These SDGs were introduced by the United Nations in 2015 and represent an excellent vehicle for discussing people and society. The seventeen goals together form an action plan to create a better and more sustainable world for everyone.

Getting Started with the Principles

For consumers, it is not strictly necessary for a company to have all seven principles in order immediately. It is already very effective – both for the impact on the world and for customer friendliness – when a company can truly make a difference in one of these principles. At the same time, we have seen for over seventeen years that customer friendliness is dynamic. Also, in terms of the seven principles, customers will increasingly expect and demand more from companies. Therefore, it’s important to start working with these principles and goals to continue scoring on customer friendliness and retaining customers in the coming years.

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