Not too long ago, many people believed that doing good in the world and succeeding in business were contradictory to one another. But now, what were once seen as mutually exclusive goals, are two harmonious pieces of the puzzle working in tandem.
With buyer behavior spotlighting the interdependence of purpose and profits, boardrooms and businesses are in universal agreement that companies who successfully merge business goals with responsible sustainability practices display the qualities of profitability and resilience.
A crucial component to companies adopting these practices is the growing number of consumers dedicated to ethical consumption. As customers become increasingly loyal to brands focused on doing the right thing from an economic, social, and environmental perspective, companies realize they must incorporate sustainability into their business practices in order to remain competitive. In fact, Nielsen predicts the sustainability market will reach $150 billion in sales this year alone.
Making businesses more sustainable starts with being aware of the issue at hand and understanding just how important it is to make changes — for the business, the communities it serves, and the planet.
It’s important to understand the inner workings of sustainability, all the way from what it means in regards to business, an explanation of its importance to your customer service operations, as well as tips on how to use your customer service agents to leverage your green initiatives.
Sustainability in Business: What Does It Mean?
Sustainability has emerged over the last several years among consumers who believe that bottom line business results should fall into three categories: financial, societal, and environmental.
A sustainable business follows the triple bottom line, a term coined by John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility. The three components of the triple bottom line are profits, people, and the planet. For a business to be considered sustainable, they need to earn profits by being socially responsible and protecting their use of the planet’s resources.
A business that is environmentally aware considers more than just profits. They consider the overall impact on society and the planet. Those businesses are sustainable because they contribute to the health and longevity of the structure within which they operate, thereby, helping to construct an environment in which both the business and the planet can thrive.
Ethical business practices, including how goods were sourced, processed, packaged, shipped and sold, took hold as consumers increasingly voted with their dollars to support companies that showed genuine sustainability practices. While the movement began in the production areas of the business, they have quickly reached into other functions, most notably, customer service.
Why Is Sustainability Important in Customer Service?
Your customer service agents are the direct line of communication between your customers and your brand. The way the customer feels about your brand is what fosters their sense of loyalty to it. While customer loyalty comes from various sources, it ultimately boils down to how a customer feels when they interact with a brand. Your agents can bring a sense of belonging and being in it together to your customers. They are on the frontlines, ensuring that the sustainable initiatives of the company are communicated to customers.
Great customer service agents are trained to deliver on brand promises in every one of their interactions. They ensure that the message of the company is consistent and authentic when dealing with customers, which in turn, strengthens trust.
Companies of all sizes have a set of values. When a brand chooses to make sustainability a part of those core values, there is a lot at stake. According to a survey by Clutch, 75 percent of consumers are likely to start shopping at a company that supports an issue they agree with.
The Environmental Defense Fund recently published the Business and the Fourth Wave of Environmentalism report, showing that consumers hold business leaders responsible for the environmental impact they make through their business. By extension, agents are on the front lines of bringing those values to life through authenticity.
So, how do you incorporate your company’s sustainable business practices through your customer service interactions?1. Help Your Customers Offset Their Impact
When people make the decision to be more sustainable, many of them turn to their purchasing decisions as a way to make their mark. According to a 2018 survey by Futerra, 88% of consumers want brands to help them make sustainable choices.
This is where your customer service agents come into play.
Helping your customers offset their impact on the environment is highly beneficial to your own sustainability efforts. By empowering your customers as ethical consumers, this will likely have a knock-on effect on their habits.
A great way to carry this out is by offering a way for a portion of purchases to donate to a specific cause. When your agents are interacting with your customers, they can remind them of this donation throughout the interaction. If your agents cross-sell or upsell during the interaction, they can mention what percentage of that purchase goes towards the company’s cause of choice.
Greenwashing isn’t a new trend. It has been around for years now but recently become more prevalent as sustainable brands and products have become more popular. Greenwashing is when a business makes a misleading claim about how sustainable their business model or product is. When businesses treat sustainability as a trend and not a long-term strategy, customers notice.
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While it is important for your company to ensure that products are well-labeled and that you have the proper third-party certifications, it is equally crucial for your customer service agents to ensure they are using the correct language around your sustainable initiatives. There is a strong demand for businesses to prove their eco-friendly credentials and one little miscommunication in a customer interaction can spur a negative reaction on social media, or worse, a lawsuit.
It starts with ensuring that your brand strongly represents the values it claims to uphold. You can do this by stating the values clearly and concisely on your website and through your social media channels. The British retailer specializing in women's activewear, Sweaty Betty, dedicates a section of their website to their commitment to the environment. Amy Rooney, Customer Solutions Manager for Sweaty Betty, passionately exclaims, “Sustainability is in our core values and part of our brand DNA.” And it shows.
After you've ensured your brand is consistent with your sustainable values, you need to make sure your agents carry out those values. Through a strong learning management system, your agents can feel empowered with the correct product knowledge, support, or compliance they need for handling customer interactions. Learning courses or learning paths with quizzes and comprehension checks are fun and interactive ways to ensure your agents retain the information well.
3. Go Paperless
The Natural Resources Defense Council found that a typical office disposes of 350 pounds of waste paper per employee, per year. It is no wonder then why the most common sustainable initiative of companies is paper reduction by a whopping 97 percent.
Your company can reduce paper waste and save trees by going digital. This can be done in two ways: reducing paper billing and communication with customers and eliminating the need for paper within the customer service operations.
You can train agents to encourage your customers to go paperless. To sweeten the deal for your agents, you can use gamification. For every customer that goes paperless through an interaction, that agent can earn points that can be cashed in for PTO or swag. Internally, you can move all your agent communication online through an Agent Optimization Suite. That eliminates your agents potential need to print documents because they will have access to it through digital platforms.
Your customer service operations are a direct extension of your brand’s sustainability. In many ways, they function as a way for you to directly communicate your company’s sustainability practices and values to the customer. When they fulfill these three roles in their organization’s approach to sustainability, everybody - most especially the customer - wins.
Are you currently implementing sustainable initiatives at your company? Let us know in the comments!