How does your business and brand convey integrity to your customers and clients?
From the Latin for “wholeness” or “completeness”, Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, or moral uprightness. It is a personal choice to hold one's self to consistent standards.
The culture and values of a business rests upon the standards to which it holds itself and this affects every part of the organization from the staff, to the customers and all the business operations.
In this blog, we are going to explore what integrity is and what it means to us personally and professionally; we’ll look at what 5 things you can do to build more integrity in to your brand that adds value to everything you do.
1. “Walk the walk and talk the talk” - Personal Integrity
The ethics, values and integrity of our business, starts with us, and how we conduct ourselves has a huge impact on how people regard our business.
It is absolutely vital for business leaders to live a lifestyle of honesty, integrity and high ethical standards because what we do as leaders and how we behave can harm the reputation of the business or organization.
This is especially true of small independent businesses that may be operating within small, local communities, where people know each other. As a small business owner for twenty years, I know how true this is and how demonstrating integrity positively influences how people regard your business.
At the other end of business spectrum, the technology and security corporation Tyco knows only too well the pitfalls of a lack of integrity when two of their former executives unwittingly became the poster children for failed ethical leadership. Both were sentenced up to 25 years in prison after stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the company.
It goes without saying that this generated negative press for Tyco affecting not only the company’s value and profitability, but exposing its poor ethics and values, something that is impossible to reverse.
When you become a business owner and leader, you have a responsibility to maintain a high moral standard, and treat your customers and stakeholders as you would wish to be treated.
2. Commit to your brand promise
Regular followers will know that I do a lot of work around branding and brand identity for small and independent business owners. One of the things I talk about in my workshops and in my one to one coaching sessions is how to demonstrate integrity by following through on your brand promise to your customer. In other words, when people see and identify with your brand, ensure that the product or service they receive is congruent with that and their expectation of it.
Let me give you the example I give in my workshop; a few years ago I bought a craft activity box for my daughter at the start of the summer holidays. The boxes had been advertised in a magazine for parents and the brand looked beautiful. However, when the product arrived the contents were very disappointing. The materials were cheap and flimsy; the book was well below my daughters reading ability, and the activity was over in five minutes!
Not only that, but we then received another one two weeks later as it was actually a subscription, which had not been made clear when I bought it. When I made a complaint about the product and lack of clarity about the subscription, the company never even bothered to respond, let alone, offer a refund.
For me, this company did not commit to their brand promise, not only because the product itself was not congruent with their marketing and branding, but also because they did not follow through on customer service in any way, so I was left feeling angry and abandoned.
Continuing this theme let’s look at service after the sale.
3. Service after the sale – why it’s important to follow up with customers.
If you know your marketing, then you might have heard of the 5 stages of the buying cycle. This is the emotional and logical process customers go through when they are buying a product or service. They are:
1. Awareness : The customer identifies a need or problem that they have and they think your business can meet that need or solve their problem
2. Consideration : The customer evaluates how your offering meets this need, including the evaluation of offerings from other businesses; I.e. your competitors
3. Preference/Intent : The customer uses a combination logic and emotion creating bias towards one solution or another, ultimately leading to a purchasing decision
4. Purchase : The decision is made to buy from your business.
5. Repurchase: The emotional and logical process that (hopefully) leads to a repeat purchase
All though this process, which can be applied for every transaction customers make, your ethics and integrity are being scrutinized. However, how you interact and deal with your customer after they have made a purchase is critical as this is when they are at their most anxious and vulnerable.
Unfortunately a lot of businesses don’t take this stage seriously as they only focus on getting the sale, but how you deal with a customer once they have made their purchase says a lot about your ethics, and influences how they feel about your brand and business, whether they will buy from you again and whether they will recommend you to others.
So ensure that you follow up with an email and make it clear that you are there to answer any questions or concerns they might have. Remember great customer service should be the cornerstone of your business.
4. Product/service integrity – Don’t be all things to all people!
It seems obvious to say that what you deliver, be it products or services, should be of the highest possible quality and that you need to have integrity about what claims you make for your product or service.
However it still surprises me how many businesses overstate what they product or service can do. Let me go back to the craft box example; the marketing claimed that the activities and books would keep your child entertained for hours, and would improve their making and crafting skills. Let’s not forget that they even had different kinds of boxes for different ages, but their claims just did not stand up so my daughter and I were very disappointed.
As part of your business and brand integrity, it is vital that you are honest about what your product/service can and, importantly, cannot do. People will appreciate your honesty, especially if you can signpost them to another product or service that could help them. So be clear about what you offer and don’t try and be all things to all people!
5. Demonstrate integrity when dealing with staff and all stakeholders.
The best kinds of relationships are those based on mutual trust and respect.
Having integrity when dealing with staff, collaborators and customers also involves assertiveness and self-awareness. In my previous blog on assertiveness I wrote:
“Assertiveness starts with self-awareness of who one is and how our behaviour impacts on others (self-responsibility). While aggression leads to either defensiveness or more aggression, assertiveness leads to clear communication and often, resolution. Assertive people possess good self-awareness, good self-respect and respect for others. They also take responsibility for their actions.”
It is not possible to run a business where you treat customers really well, but your treatment of your staff and collaborators is lousy. It isn’t congruent with your brand values, and just like with the Tyco executives, bad news travels fast and people will get to hear about it. There is a bit of a prevailing corporate culture around this, but as independent business owners we can positively influence that culture and show them how it should be done.
My husband and I have been running a well-established health business for 20 years and are well known in the local area. For us it is important that our values of promoting wellbeing extend to all our staff so we would never insist that they come in if they are unwell, and often pay for treatments if they have a particular issue that needs resolving; physically or emotionally. So we demonstrate our integrity through good pastoral care.
Not only does this make us feel good about what we do, it is good for business as we have a really happy team. How they are treated reflects well on us as business owners and makes them good advocates for the type of business we are running.
Having high ethical and moral standards gives us a sense of pride in what we do. It reinforces our brand values and influences the public’s perception of our business.
So ensure you make integrity part of your brand identity and culture in everything you do.
If you would like helping building more integrity in to your brand and communicating what you do more effectively, book a 30 minute phone consultation here to find out how business coaching and mentoring can help.