Service & Experience with J. N. Halm: If you do good

The Service Line with J. N. Halm: It’s A Joke...employing Humour at the Front Line
J.N. Halm is a columnist with the B&FT

…Social mission, service quality, and brand image

Gone are the days when business was all about making money. Gone are the days when the archetypal businessman was the epitome of corruption and avarice. Up to this day, many cartoonists still portray a corporation as the fat man with wads of cash sticking out of his pockets. Businesses were caricatured as being up to no good—taking from the poor and not giving back to society.

Stories were, and even still are, common of organisations within the exploitative industries taking from the land and waters without doing enough for those whose natural resources are being exploited. Combined with the erroneous impression that money was the root of all evil, the business arena was a no-go area for those who did not want to be tainted by its numerous vices.

But times are changing. These days, business is about more than just making tons of money. Today’s business must also do good—and it must do loads of good, if it wants to be regarded as a good corporate citizen. Today’s business must be as interested in giving back to society as it is in making money from the same people. Today’s business must not take without giving back.

For some decades now, the concept of corporate social responsibility or corporate citizenship has gradually become a part and parcel of business life. As consumers became more and more conscious of social causes, they began to put pressure on businesses to do more for society. Organisations that refused to heed these calls began to suffer the consequences as customers started to shame them and even began taking their business to more socially-conscious competitors. This has gradually led to organisations taking a second look at their business models.

Organisations that pursue both profit and social motives are becoming the norm. Known broadly as social enterprises, these businesses with hybrid missions are slowly becoming the order of the day. A more technical definition of such a business is one that “addresses a basic unmet need or solves a social or environmental problem through a market-driven approach”. In other words, a social enterprise sits midway between a pure profit-making business and a not-for-profit organisation, taking the positives from the two models to create a unique organisation.

Some have argued that the blending of these two business models is not necessary. They argue that traditional NGOs should be left to tackle societal issues while businesses concentrate on just making money. However, these arguments have been countered by some who claim those pure profit-making businesses that take on social missions tend to be more nimble, flexible, efficient, transparent, and accountable than conventional social sector organizations or non-profit organisations.

There have even been arguments that some organisations are doing these good things in society just to look good, without meaning to really do any good. Granted, there may be individuals who are unscrupulous enough to attempt such schemes. However, by and large, the businesses that set out to do good in society do so because those behind the business mean to give back to society. For those businesses, the chasing of profit is only necessary because it provides them with the means to do the good they want to do. These businesses end up doing a double good. Not only do they sell products and services that help customers but they also use a percentage of the money they make to help society.

Since the setting up of the Grameen Foundation in 1976 with the objective of helping alleviate poverty in Bangladesh, there have been many more examples of these businesses. One of the best examples of companies that are set to bring real change in the lives of people is Come True Coffee. The Taipei-based business was set up with one overriding mission—to give back to society. In the case of Come True, that meant donating 50% of its profits to the “Clean Water for Africa” project to build wells and carry out hygiene promotion work in Africa. Since October 2017, with the aid of World Vision Taiwan, Come True Coffee has been digging wells in villages in Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. As of the time of this article, the company had dug a total of 18 wells on the continent of Africa.

Another successful example of a company with a serious social mission is TOMS. The company which was founded in 2006 after its founder came across a woman distributing shoes in Argentina is globally known for its One-for-One Policy. This is the company’s promise to deliver one pair of free shoes to a child in need for the sale of any one of their retail products. Through this policy, the company has distributed more than 100 million free pairs of shoes to children in several countries all over the world, including Argentina, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Guatemala, Haiti, and South Africa. There have even been free shoe distributions in the United States.

CleanCook Africa is the name of another successful social enterprise. With a mission “to promote and distribute clean cooking alternatives at affordable prices, as well as, the biofuel necessary for their use,” this organisation has touched the lives of millions in several developing nations. The organisation has a considerable presence in Ghana, where there are plans to establish an initial 10 Million-litre per year ethanol distillery in the Central Region of the country. This distillery will be vertically integrated with a fully mechanized 8,000-acre feedstock cassava farm.

Recent studies seem to suggest that businesses have a lot more to be gained by being good corporate citizens.  It seems businesses that are pursuing good social initiatives are reaping more than a good name. For instance, it has been argued that businesses with compelling social missions tend to attract more customers than competitors with purely profit motives without any accompanying social missions.

A 2021 study published in the October edition of the Journal of Business Research found an interesting relationship between social mission, service quality, and brand image in a social enterprise. The study was titled “The effect of social mission on service quality and brand image.” Interestingly, this particular study used data gathered from customers of Come True Coffee in the central Taiwanese city of Taichung in February 2018. The study affirmed that social mission improves service quality and brand image.

It was also found that the social mission of the organisation had a way of making customers of the social enterprise feel concerned about social issues. The study also found that the quality of service rendered by an organisation affected the relationship between the social mission and the brand image of the organisation. In other words, the better the quality of service, the better the image of the organisation’s brand.

In my experience, customers are a lot more amiable to organisations that are seen as doing good. It is as if customers feel obliged to help businesses are doing good things in the world. Because most customers are unable to do much, if anything at all, to solve the problems of society, they feel like they are doing their part when they support businesses that are doing these good things. Customers will come into encounters with these businesses in a friendlier and more positive state of mind. This makes the service experience a lot more manageable for the customer-facing employee and a lot more enjoyable for the customer. In short, by doing good, the business looks good—and good-looking businesses attract good customers.

This discussion should be of interest to every business out there. If doing good affects the quality of service and the brand image, it becomes important, even critical, that a business finds a way of doing good. Businesses must begin to pursue social missions that have positive impacts on society. Every business must look within the communities it operates in to find the challenges facing those in there. Entrepreneurs must even have this kind of mindset before commencing their entrepreneurial journeys.

The key is to start by looking out for pressing social or environmental challenges. After identifying the problem, it would be important to conduct exhaustive research on the problem, with particular attention to the root causes. With a good knowledge of the problem, the next step will be to brainstorm on the potential solutions. Solutions must necessarily be innovative and also sustainable. I found that sometimes, the best solutions are in the heads of the very people facing the challenge. It therefore pays to listen to them.

Experts advise that in either setting up a new social enterprise or in changing an existing business to become more socially conscious, it is important to consider the scalability of the solution. Can the solution be extended to others beyond the immediate environment where the initial problem was recognised? This is critical in determining the long-term viability of the solution. Since no solution is 100% error-proof at its first rendition, it is good to seek feedback from others before developing a complete business plan and thereafter proceeding to launch.

As can be seen, establishing a business with a captivating social mission requires some work. However, the businesses that are bent on doing good in society will put in the work. These businesses would also commit the necessary resources to ensure that they give back to society. With such a commitment, many of the problems facing society would become a thing of the past. The business will also benefit in the end. Like the legendary Akwasi Ampofo Adjei sang, “If you do good, you do for yourself”!

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