Among all the talks, samples and seeing colleagues old and new, one of the standouts for me at Natural Products Expo West was Thursday’s keynote speech by Martha Rogers, acclaimed customer strategy expert.
Now you wouldn’t think that I, a science-and-regulatory-head, would be so taken with this topic, but what Rogers had to say was extremely important and relevant across the board. She spoke regarding everyone’s favorite buzz-issue now: Trust. (You don’t get to be a keynote for nothing). And she had something very new to say.
Rogers outlined a paradigm shift that will determine who will get to continue to play in the world of consumerism and who won’t (we just live in the era of the paradigm shift, doesn’t it seem? Hello election year, job structuring etc., etc.). It has to do with how we view and practice trust.
She defined two words for us: trustworthy and trustability.
Trustworthy means living up to your word–whether in your manufacturing, on your label, in your customer interactions or in your B2B relationships-being reliable and competent at what you do (hmm … where have I heard that word pair before?). Many companies strive to be this, and do succeed to a large degree. Being trustworthy is a minimum requirement.
But trustability is about being capable of being trusted. Because of the way social media has connected everyone to everything, customers have a whole new level of expectation regarding how companies relate to them. They want to be acknowledged and treated like individuals, individuals who are known in their individuality and treated that way--otherwise, they can take their business elsewhere. Loyalty has to be bought with more than points these days--it has to be earned with … trustability.
How do you earn that? With proactive practices that say, we know who you are, and we’re putting our thoughts, actions and a smile in your direction.
So that’s the paradigm shift: having your business strategy be customer-centric (all about them) instead of product-centric (trying to sell more stuff to them).
An example: USAA insurance company for military service personnel sent auto insurance refund checks to those serving overseas, on the basis that they were not using their cars for that time period. Wow! The bigger wow is, most of the customers SENT THE CHECK BACK. They said, "Thanks so much, but stay strong USAA. We love and need you.”
Would you trust USAA for having your back? Would you ever go anywhere else?
Rogers went on to make the case that these types of customer-centered, short-term sacrifices not only make dollars and sense, but are also your biggest competitive advantage.
For us in the natural products business, I think the message is even more critical than that. It is a matter of not just which companies will be here for the long term, but whether the industry will be here for the long term. We have to show the world that we are not just trustworthy (though that is a great start) but also trustable. We’re on an upswing now, even with our problems. But the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. The wellness lifestyle will probably stick around, but what products and services will be a part of it long term is still very much evolving.
When we think and do in a customer-focused way, customers love and trust us. And then they pop onto their cellphones and become your best brand ambassadors. Wouldn’t it be something if social media came to overpower the influence of the regular media’s message about our industry? Crazier things have been turned on their head these days.