As an online business owner, you have a lot of things you need to deal with. You need to think about replenishing your inventory regularly, maintaining great professional relations with your manufacturers & suppliers and lowering overhead costs so you can take in more revenue.
Aside from all these, though, you also need to be involved in customer acquisition, customer retention and advertising & marketing. Why? Let’s face it: you can replenish stocks all you want, have amazing people in your network and decrease your overhead costs to the bare minimum – but if you don’t have any customers who want to transact with you, then everything will all be done in vain.
This is a main concern for online retailers such as yourself: in the world of e-commerce, how do clients know which companies they should do business with and which online companies they should avoid like the plague?
Think of connecting with your customers in the same manner as connecting with an online date – without actually meeting the person, how can you assure them that you’re sincere, legitimate and trustworthy?
Should you spend most of your resources on website development and social media management? No. While it makes sense to invest for the development of your business’ platform, you should also think about using that platform to connect with your target audience.
Should you focus your operational efforts on things that matter to your business’ interest only? No. According to a recent study, 86% of consumers report that companies need to place at least equal importance on both their business interest and social interest.
Or should you simply lower all your product prices with the hope of gaining new customers? No. Even though online shoppers ranked Zappos as 14th in importance, they still rated Zappos very highly for loyalty-inspiring distinctions. Meaning, even though the company sells their products at full, department store-prices, they can still manage to generate 75% of regular sales from repeat customers.
Instead of doing all these expensive and ineffective activities, there’s something that you probably haven’t thought of before – refer to the above examples: what word comes to mind when you talk about “customer connection”, “social interest”, and “brand loyalty”?
We can relate these three concepts with the idea of “authenticity”.
What exactly does “authenticity” mean?
Authentic Ecommerce merchants inspire business growth and attract loyal customers. Naturally, people engage and do businesses with brands that they trust. But in the digital realm where information is easily accessible, it’s not enough for your business to be transparent – you also need to be congruent between your claims and your conduct.
To give you examples of online businesses which are highly successful at being authentic, let’s take a look at Zappos, Buffer and Moz.
The Amazon-acquired company Zappos, much praised for their superb customer service, reached $1 billion in annual sales in 2008 – and they’re not stopping anytime soon.
There are quite a lot of reasons why Zappos is one of the most authentic companies out there. Among these reasons, we have:
Exceptional customer service: Instead of spending money on paid advertising, Zappos invested in customer service so their satisfied customers can buy from and do word-of-”mouse” marketing in behalf of Zappos. Some examples of fanatical Zappos customer service stories:
- A vegan customer was delighted to find leather-free goods that she sent Zappos’ link to about 150 people.
- A customer whose mother recently underwent a medical treatment asked how to return the shoes she bought from Zappos. Two days later, she received a large bouquet of flowers with a get-well-soon message and VIP memberships for herself and her mother.
- Back in November 2011, Zappos teamed up with Massachusetts Department of Transportation to cover the tolls on a particular section of the road from 5-7 pm.
Amazing company culture: Zappos doesn’t have scripts because they want their reps to shine and to develop a personal connection with their customers. The company also doesn’t care about “average handle time” during phone calls, as long as the rep can go the extra mile for their clients. Their longest customer service call? 10 hours and 39 minutes.
Solid employee training & development: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says that Zappos has 10 core values and has job interview questions related to each value. Additionally, he mentions that Zappos will fire people based on their subscription to Zappos’ core values – regardless of their actual job performance. According to him, it doesn’t matter what your core values are, as long as you are willing to align your company culture around them, and you’re willing to hire and fire people based on it.
Social media management software Buffer made headlines last 2013 when they decided to publish their employees’ salaries – yes, even their CEO’s – in a blog post.
Transparent salaries: Buffer’s 2nd value, “default to transparency” can be seen in this move. If the salary information they showed aren’t enough, they also included the pay structure and the formulas needed to calculate salaries so if you’re interested, you can go right ahead and compute them yourself. Not fond of calculations? You can also check out this public spreadsheet to see their actual salaries in real-time. Since then, they’ve been inundated with resumés.
Productivity and happiness consciousness: Everyone in Buffer was given Jawbone UP wristbands so their sleeping habits, daily nutrition and steps are automatically tracked and accessible by the team. Their key value “have a focus on self-improvement” influenced this move. According to Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich, discussing on how to get deep sleep had an amazing impact on productivity.
Open dashboard accessible to the public: In line with one of their company’s core values, that is, transparency, Buffer recently published their public real-time revenue dashboard that contains their monthly recurring revenue, net revenue, average revenue per user, downgrades, cancellations, refunds and live stream of Buffer transactions, among others (which, by the way, I analyzed).
Founded in 2004, inbound marketing software Moz firmly believes in their core values – TAGFEE – to help them deliver amazing customer experience and provide a foundation for their decision-making tasks, work judgement guidelines, performance review processes, product design and marketing campaigns.
TAGFEE: The core values of Moz are:
- Transparency – Moz believes that sharing their work internally (with the team) and externally (with the public) helps with improving accountability and teamwork. When you join the Moz team, you can access the company’s financial data and internal processes.
- Authenticity – It’s important for the Moz team to celebrate, rather than repress, one’s individual quirks and to be proud of who they truly are, even if they admit that they are less than perfect.
- Generosity – In the spirit of giving back to their team and to the community, Moz participates in out-of-this-world activities such as matching their team member’s donations to charitable communities and paid vacations. What’s interesting to note about the latter is that you’re actually encouraged to go on a vacation – if you don’t take a vacation, the opportunity disappears!
- Fun – Creation of a friendly & relaxed work environment and celebration of every team member’s achievements are priority to-do’s for Moz.
- Empathy – Considered as the heart of Moz’s culture, empathy means treating others the way you want to be treated. Moz co-founder Rand Fishkin recognizes that while this is the hardest to consistently embody, this is also the most important value.
- Exceptional – Moz aims to be uniquely remarkable and to be an outlier in their field. For the company, challenging stereotypes and creating better ways are preferable to just being “really, really good”.
Besides from their TAGFEE code, Moz releases their Whiteboard Friday videos every single week. These videos cover topics related to the company’s bread and butter, online marketing. (One company in the online marketing space that followed Moz is BigCommerce, which got inspiration from this and started their own informative video series called #SellMore.
Based on the above examples of stellar representations of authenticity, we can now define being authentic as being genuinely you, being trusted by your customers and being supportive of the community you’re in.
Simply put, authenticity means you walk the talk. You stay true to who you are and who you serve.
3 benefits that being authentic can do for your online business
- Engagement: Authenticity can encourage building sustainable relationships with your customers can give you lasting growth. It enables your customers to relate to your business and make the transformation from being an audience to an advocate.
- Elevation: Being authentic can help you build a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your brand and keep you one step ahead of your competition by building your brand to be something influential and unique. When your customer thinks of your business, they’re not confused about what you offer; instead, they can immediately associate your brand with the benefit that you’re giving them.
- Emotional Connection: A key component of authenticity, trust, can be accomplished by being transparent in showing your customers what you say you will do. In an era where personal and corporate secrets can be unraveled with a few keyboard strokes or mouse clicks, it’s only a matter of time before your audience can see right through your act.
Aside from the obvious benefits that being authentic can do for your business, there’s also an understated advantage of practicing it in your business’s operations: freedom.
Being authentic, simply being true to yourself, to your company and to your customers, gives you extra energy that would otherwise be consumed if your company were faking it.
Don’t believe me? Just read about these negative effects to our body that lying can cause.
Looking back at our online dating analogy in the beginning of this article, being authentic assures your customers that you’re sincere and trustworthy – and you don’t even have to be stressed about thinking and keeping tabs on what you said because you’re being unapologetically you.
For your online store to be a truly remarkable company, you don’t need severely lowered prices, expensive state-of-the-art and advanced technology or a multitude of marketing buzzwords to sensationalize your brand and make it viral.
You only need to stay true to your core business beliefs, walk & talk according to your beliefs and base every decision you make on your core values.
In the end, the long-term growth, loyal customers and positive business reputation will be all worth it – no billion dollars required.
Sure, learning about authenticity is cool, but how do you exactly apply it in your business? Watch out for our next blog post next week.
Aside from the examples in this post, what other companies do you think of when you hear about authenticity?