Why Customers Don’t Care About Your Corporate Values

Over the last weekend, I visited our great state’s State Fair. By many accounts, it’s the best state fair in the country (take THAT Iowa!).

While our family had a blast eating greasy, fried food, hitting the Giant Slide and sitting on virtually every tractor on “Machinery Hill” (my son LOVES tractors), I spent a bit of time observing how companies are positioning themselves and activating their brands at the fair. Each year, one vendor seems to draw my attention–this year it was the good folks at Culligan (last year, I talked about John Deere’s opportunities).

Now, this post is not intended to be one of those “throw-the-company-under-the-bus” posts, but instead a larger analysis of a much bigger issue: The irrelevance of company values to external audiences.

Culligan does a lot of things right at the State Fair. First and foremost, they give away a lot of free water. But as I browsed their booth, one thing immediately stood out for me: They posted their corporate values right in the booth.

Which, for me, raised a bigger question: Do your customers really care about your “corporate values?”

I’d argue no. Here’s my thinking.

I think by posting your “corporate values” publicly, you’re focusing too much attention on your own organization–and not enough on your customers. After all, telling me your corporate values does nothing to solve my problem or need, right?

I think customers want to buy from companies that spend 110 percent of their time delivering outstanding customer service–up and down the line.

I think customers want to buy from companies who treat their employees the exact same way they treat their VIP customers.

I think customers want to buy from companies that are good corporate citizens–those organizations that work hard to make a difference in the communities they support.

And none of this has to do with telling me your corporate values.

Now, there is a time and a place for corporate values–absolutely. And, more often than not, it’s with employees. But, even with them, your values need to be more than just corporate lip service.

Instead of posting these corporate values on your intranet, why not re-double your efforts to live those values and share the resulting stories with your employees, vendors and customers every day?

Instead of posting your corporate values on table tents and posters, why not work to better enable, train and support middle management? After all, they are the real core and personality of your organization. Make sure they’re rock stars and you’ll see a much bigger pay-off than just posting values in your cafeteria.

Again, none of this is meant as a slam on Culligan. It was merely one example of a larger issue I’ve been meaning to discuss for quite a while.

But, I do think mid-sized to larger organizations have a ways to go when it comes to aligning “corporate values” with actual actions and results–both internally and externally. But, that’s probably a whole ‘nother post 😉

What do you think about posting corporate values (either internally OR externally)? Any value there?

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  • pr oracle

    You don’t share what they posted as their corporate values. I can only guess that their values don’t include providing outstanding customer service, real value for the dollar and concern for the environment. If those were among their corporate values, that would really resonate with their customers. I do agree that more time and money should be spent on living those value, rather than in printing posters and table tents displaying them in writing.

  • Anonymous

    Really interesting post Arik. While living the company values is far more important than talking about them, I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. By sharing the company values at every opportunity, you challenge employees to live up to the ideals you have set and help set expectations for current and potential employees, suppliers, customers and investors. I believe that companies who have clear core values and truly live those values (which I do think includes sharing those values proudly) will create opportunities to develop new beneficial relationships with like minded partners. Just ask Tony Hsieh 😉

  • It’s actually the pic in the post. Not sure you can read it–it’s pretty small. My argument is don’t all companies essentially have the same corporate values? They all stand for integrity, respect, trust, etc. I mean, who DOESN’T stand for those things?

  • I just think most orgs corporate values are a vanilla string of the same values. Respect, integrity, innovation, trust, etc. I don’t know about you, but that does absolutely nothing for me. I need/want to see it in action. Personal stories. Anecdotes. Executives talking about what the company means to them–from a very personal POV. That would inspire me. I just think printing the values and posting them is almost useless by itself.

  • Hey there Arik! Good points, I also think no one cares if companies identify their core values as something abstract like Integrity or Teamwork. Those things aren’t concrete. I would argue, however, that customers do care and do look for companies to make concrete statements that might fall under the heading of “values.” Like, “we give our employees in same-sex partnerships the same benefits as those enjoyed by our married employees” or “we are committed to using green materials in our office.”

    But like you said, a whole nother post.

  • Anonymous

    Very much agree Arik “printing the values and posting them is almost useless by itself.” Stories, actions, that put meaning behind the values is essential. It’s easy to say you are a company that values family, teamwork and integrity (or efficiency, quality and affordability)but a company who can demonstrate that they live those values will give those words meaning and even value

  • I think part of this issues comes down to this belief (which has largely been predicated by mass corporate adoption of social media) that every bit and piece of a company should now be fully transparent, and that companies should go out of their way to be upfront with customers about what they stand for. And while, yes, there is definitely a need for this in some cases, more and more, I think we’re seeing it as merely a knee-jerk reaction by companies afraid they are going to get ‘gamed’ online or in the social space by customers or groups, whether that is truly the case or not.

    Muck like you, Arik, I could really care less whether a company is as forthcoming as Culligan was about disclosing its corporate values. For me, what it ultimately comes down to is whether the company does right for the greater good of its customers and key audiences. So long as it’s doing that, in my book, a company is doing just fine, and it doesn’t need to always succumb to the latest crazy of being so forthright with how it operates.

  • Nope. If customers don’t care about your values, then you have your values wrong. What makes customers, staff, suppliers, shareholders etc all stakeholders are the things that we share and that create an organisation. Companies are groups of people with shared values who are working together with a common purpose. Customers who share those values see the benefit of the product and service that achieves the common purpose, which is, in part, how they become customers.

    The real problem is that many values statements are about the how the company will act, not about the values that are shared that create the company. In your picture above, teamwork is the obvious example. It might be the company’s management or operating style, but it isn’t a value shared with customers.

    So I think you’re right to say many values statements are generic and unhelpful, but throwing out a fundamental basis for your organisation is a much more dangerous practice than throwing out the bathwater.

    Cheers, geoff

  • There’s only one corporate value.

    Do. Business. Right.

    ‘Nuff said. 😉

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