Fast Company

How Innovative Leadership Impacts Customer Experience - Part 1

We've talked a lot about innovative leadership. As an experience architect, I'm also interested in how innovative leadership is reflected in customer experience. Let me hear from you on this one.

I'll start us off by contributing some information about a company called Honest Tea, which relates to Peter Rees' post on Social Impact and Profit.

Honest Tea's Co-Founder Seth Goldman's passion for quality, community, culture and socially responsible trade is reflected in the products he makes. As an innovative tea aficionado, Seth introduced high quality, less sweet teas, bottled with social conscience to the market in 1998. His teas and newly launched lemonades are now sold at national retailers and health food stores around the country.

It's obvious when you buy a bottle of Honest Tea, that there's a bit more brewing at Honest Tea. Buy a bottle of "Peach-Oo-la-long" and you may learn that the tea was the first bottled tea in the US to carry the Fair Trade logo. Grab a bottle of refreshing "First Nation Peppermint" was a first of many innovative business partnerships with economically disadvantaged communities in the US and abroad. The company partners with AmeriCorps, and also engages in fair trade relationships with (among other things) a subsistence farming community in South America and farming cooperative in Guatemala.

In a recent interview, I asked Seth about the customer experience offered by Honest Tea. "It's pretty simple." Goldman says, "We offer a less sweet, milder, higher quality product with 1/3 less sugar that goes beyond homogenized choices offered by face lit conglomerates." He added, "I don’t want to take this too far, but guess you could say on another level that we also offer authentic culture, too -- reflected in our product, the artwork on our labeling, and messaging under our caps. Going further, we also offer our customers the chance to support a different part of the economy that they may not normally consider. Many people feel good about this, as well."

Probing for more, I asked Goldman if he viewed his product served as a platform. "If we can play that role, it's fine. However, but if someone has a political or worldview that is different than ours, or they disagree -- it's fine. They're still welcome to enjoy some really good tea."

When I asked Seth what motivated him most about being an entrepreneur, he immediately that he knew, early on that he was interested in "doing more than selling moving boxes and making money on it." Goldman underscores, however, that the process of innovation has been an evolutionary learning process and readily stresses the company's lack of perfection.

You might say that Goldman's accessibility, easy manner and open candor are reflected in his teas: They are authentic, not artificial, with an undertone of conviction; they're a bit niche and unconventional; they're flavored with culture; a bit thought provoking and something you might just want to try for yourself.

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2 Comments

  • Leigh Duncan

    Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. Perhaps "everything old is new again" in some respects. At the same time, I don't think good quality product is not in itself innovative.

    What did strike me as innovative is the socially responsible management (adhering to the principals of fair trade, giving staff and customers an outlet for supporting struggling economies) that Honest Tea leadership supports.

    Based on my discussions with Seth, this makes a difference in the type of people drawn to work at HonestTea, and - beyond making or selling tea -- they create an undertone of good will and interest in these ideas. At an unquestionably small level, they also offer a platform for the engagement of others in supporting these ideals.

    Everyone may not agree, but this seems to create an experience that constitutes more bottle of tea.

    But I'm so high on caffiene now, it's hard to tell! ;-)

  • Peter Rees

    Thanks Leigh, enjoy your style.

    Never tried the product and I get the folksy vibe - "They're still welcome to enjoy some really good tea".

    But I'm stuck on seeing the innovation.

    BTW - First Nation Peppermint sounds like cultural appropriation - to me.