Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - March 18, 2009

Is Your "Green" Only Skin Deep?

In our last issue of Jeff's Thoughts, I wrote about "telltales", those little signs your customers pick up that tell them how much you really value their business. Customers tend to be particularly perceptive -- and skeptical -- when businesses respond to issues that are getting a lot of "buzz" in the community, and a lot of coverage in the media.

Perhaps one of the best examples of such a situation is "going green," doing business in ways that are good to the environment, that conserve energy and reduce waste and generate fewer greenhouse gases. There is no question that with global warming in the news, the health of the planet is a higher priority issue for your customers than it was a few years ago . . . and that many banks and other businesses are touting their "green" credentials at every opportunity.

There is also little question that many customers are casting rather a jaundiced eye at these claims of green-ness. They have seen too many instances where business actions and words don't line up very closely together.

One customer I spoke with recently shared this very frustration. His bank regularly encloses inserts in his account statements and sends him e-mails strongly encouraging him to choose online statements because they save paper and are good for the environment. This bank also brags about how "green" their new building is, and they generally pat themselves on the back quite vigorously for their environmental virtue.

In spite of all these messages, he suspects that recommending online statements has more to do with saving the bank money than with saving the forest or the planet. Why?

Because every three weeks, this bank sends him "convenience checks" to draw on his credit card account. That means an envelope, a cover letter, and a sheet of checks every few weeks, none of which he wants. And even if he did use them, it seems unlikely he could use up these checks at the rate they are mailed to him without quickly reaching his credit limit!

When he decided this had to stop, could he just go to the bank's web site and change something in his "profile" that would turn off these mailings? Of course not! He had to call an 800 number, trot through some voice mails, talk to a representative, and eventually he was promised that the mailings would stop within a couple of months.

Now, we're using the environment as an example, but you lose credibility and reduce the good will of your customers whenever what you say and what you do are so conspicuously out of synch. And you are especially likely to make these kinds of mistakes when you jump on the bandwagon of some popular cause.

How does this happen? In our example, it happens in banks where:

Why not get off the fence on the environment? If you are not committed internally to better stewardship of resources, stop trying to fool your customers with glib marketing blurbs. If you are committed to what you say, take the steps within your organization to live up to your own words.

Either way, you'll have happier customers, and that's good for your business. The only business that customers trust less than one that doesn't agree with their principles is the business that doesn't agree with itself.