Can We Build More Ethical Yet Profitable Businesses? | A Q&A with Kate Hardcastle

2 December 2019

As a specialist in consumer behaviour, developing talent, women in business & strategic alliances, Kate Hardcastle is best known as The Customer Whisperer, the UK’s leading ‘go-to’ business expert on consumer insight for National TV & Media.

From Rip Off Britain, What Britain Bought, Battlefront, Inside Out and Eat Shop Save, we sat down with Kate to talk about how small businesses can thrive and the value of bespoke customer service.

Many know you as The Customer Whisperer, can you tell us a bit about your journey?

My absolute passion is business and creating strategies that benefit both commerce and consumer. I am a complete customer geek, born into a family of retailers and charity volunteers.

After years in building brands and creating household names - such as the Silentnight brand and the iconic Hippo & Duck, I was successful in receiving accolades including Marketer of the Year for the UK. I went into broader board-room roles - from sourcing in China and India, to studying Japanese manufacturing techniques.

I have found it so important to stay close to the consumer throughout and being in tune with the pulse of their decision-making and buying habits. I have been a valuable asset to boardrooms here in the UK and also Internationally - advising businesses, community projects and local authorities on how to make valuable change.

As The Customer Whisperer, you've presented and provided expertise for leading consumer shows like Rip Off Britain, What Britain Bought, Battlefront, Inside Out, and Eat Shop Save and more and have developed a strategy called 'tea lights & chandeliers'. Can you elaborate on this theory?

It is so important to realise that the projects that we in business, often work for years creating, developing and supporting take years to come into fruition. This feels valuable and worthwhile for the long-term development of the business, but can often leave our most important audience, the customer, out in the cold.

Working on the smaller stuff - the ‘tea-lights’ as I call them, means that you help customers see the brighter future ahead with more immediate and shorter-term delivery of projects and results, whilst informing them and involving them in your bigger plans. It's a win, win.

In the time of rising technology and a globalised world, how do we help make boardrooms more human, more diverse and better fitted to modern consumers?

My work is dedicated to making businesses and their strategies more human. It is so important to embrace digital as a partner to all we can offer in real-life form, not as an alternative.

I am so very grateful for the data and the speed and efficacy that was just not available when I started in business, and I have engaged with all the developments out there. Yet this should not be done at the rejection of all the brilliance we can add as humans with emotional intelligence.

I am working with some fantastic businesses that realise this and want to know how to create harmony and balance.

What do you mean by 'build bridges not thrones', and how can small businesses, thrive on this concept?

This is my statement and I exist by it.

It is my way to highlight just how very important it is to work with others, to collaborate and to make a difference.

We all have a finite budget or time, resource and cap-ex, but if we can find complimentary non conflicting partners on that journey - we only increase our opportunity for audience, for visibility and for presence.

I love brining businesses together - you could say, that I am a bit of a matchmaker.

Are there any faux pas that businesses should be aware of when looking at customer service?

Absolutely, and there are many, but a prevalent one of our time is to understand the big difference in generational communication.

Often training can be offered in very practical terms - yet we have generations who have grown up with a screen as their primary form of communication. We must teach so many skills that are taken for granted and have to evolve so much of the service methodology of the old.

How can we build more ethical yet profitable businesses?

I was fortunate to have a short time in the company of Dame Anita Roddick and spoke to her of my passion to balance a commercial life with a charitable one. The importance of giving back,

being more ethical and sustainable as an organisation, has never been greater, yet the opportunity to really get involved with our charities and community projects is not always embraced.

Building a corporate social responsibility strategy that echoes your brand, and then really getting to know the projects or charities you support can add so much for everyone involved.

You may find that a charity is under-networked and paying for resources you already have and can offer. I have managed to donate 20% of my time back into community projects, charities and micro-business support and still created profit.

That time has gone on to help over 1,000 small businesses, and many charities to take a considerable development plan that has seen greater donations, presence and awareness.

Why is charity involvement important to the future of business?

It is incredibly important to me to ensure there is balance between commerce and charity. The benefits of giving-back when you are in a position to do so are obvious. There was never any intention for myself or my business to benefit from the work we have done in the CSR space, but we have. We have delivered significant results for start-up businesses even when working on a budget of £0, we have interacted and engaged with even more consumers and been able to research and understand behaviour in an even deeper way.

We are so fortunate to have spent ten years supporting these organisations that have taught us so much, and really made a huge difference in our engagement & understanding of real life

We just saw that you were awarded with the MBE from the queen, congratulations! What's next for you

Thank you, it was an utter surprise and delight to be recognised for business and entrepreneurship with a new style of business and engagement. I am delighted that those words of guidance from Anita so early on, have made such a difference to so many.

I am so excited to share my learnings and experience with businesses all over the country with our seminars, workshops and trainings and look forward to 2020 which looks to be a year of the change makers, like myself.

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