By Jo Causon, CEO, The Institute of Customer Service
As people across the world gathered last week for events and activities to mark Earth Day, it is easy to see just how firmly environmental issues have entered the mainstream. This momentum has of course been building for many years, buoyed by the upcoming COP26 conference and the positive environmental impact as a result of less travel due to the Covid-19 crisis, and given fresh impetus by the new White House administration. But I was particularly struck this year by the level of activity from brands looking to utilise Earth Day as a platform to highlight their sustainable credentials.
A mere glance at news headlines and social media feeds reveals brands, politicians and celebrities across the board communicating their commitment and support for environmental causes. Of course, this is heartening to see. True success in our fight against the climate crisis will require mammoth efforts from governments, organisations and their customers worldwide. Yet this swell of external-facing support for climate causes also reveals a more profound understanding within organisations of the impact of their environmental and ethical credentials on customer loyalty and, in turn, financial reward.
I do not mean this cynically – many organisations have genuine care and commitment to the climate crisis – but we should recognise that demonstrating environmentally sustainable practices has become a key motivator for customers when purchasing from or engaging with brands. Yet to truly succeed, organisations need to ensure their external commitments to sustainability are genuinely backed up. As much as they are more attuned to environmental issues, customers too are increasingly savvy of so-called ‘greenwashing’. As with all principles of customer engagement, communications around the green agenda must be open, transparent and honest to resonate effectively and avoid customer backlash.
Our recent research into the impact of the green agenda on the customer experience, revealed that whilst many organisations are committed to focusing on the sustainability impact of their operations and supply chains; they are considerably less clear on how to embed the green agenda into the heart of their customer proposition. Customers expect organisations to comply with legal and regulatory responses as a given, but they are also increasingly looking for them to help them make more sustainable choices, without having to compromise on price or quality. They want organisations to demonstrate that they are looking for new and innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact as a central business priority.
As support for environmental issues continues to grow, it will become ever more critical for organisations to embrace the green agenda. In doing so, they must remember that environmental sustainability cannot be faked. Only through adopting a genuine commitment to drive change will businesses reap the rewards of increased customer loyalty and better business performance.
You can read the full findings of our research here (free for TAN and DR Members).