Service starts with an “S.” So does Sustainability.
Coincidence? I think not.
Consumerist.com, long regarded for its snarky commentary on business practices and marketing, has launched their annual “Worst Company in America” battle royale, whittling down from 32 companies to four, one of whom will be awarded this inauspicious honor. Among those vying for the title are Bank of America, Comcast, Ticketmaster, and AIG. At first blush, there aren’t really any surprises there. In one corner, you have AIG and Bank of America who have become surreptitiously synonymous with exorbitant compensation packages, reckless management, and of course, the dreaded tax payer bailouts. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ticketmaster and Comcast bring us monster monopolies where service is overlooked as customers are forced to deal with their “only game in town” mentality. Ever tried to get a live agent on the phone at Ticketmaster? You’d be more likely to get swine flu than a helpful customer service representative. And while Comcast has attempted to improve their notoriously poor customer service with their @comcastcares account on Twitter, Frank Eliason is just one man up against the 50 trillion* new users since Ashton Kutcher and Oprah joined the party. Probably not going to make a dent in transforming their image with the masses. You’d have better luck actually getting that wire transfer of a hundred million dollars from the Prince of Nigeria.
*may not be an actual stat
The competition began with 32 companies separated into four brackets. Companies competed in head-to-head match ups and the winner of each match up was determined by the vote of Consumerist readers. The 32 companies included: AIG, Target, Peanut Corp of America, American Express, Walmart, HP, T-Mobile, Best Buy, Ticketmaster, TWC, Apple, United HealthCare, Verizon, Sprint, Home Depot, Citibank, Comcast, DirecTV, US Airways, Capital One, General Motors, United Airlines, Sears, Chase, eBay/Paypal, GE, Dell, Chrysler, AT&T, Circuit City, Starbucks, and Bank of America.
Looking at that list, I could easily rattle off two or three examples of what landed each of them in this competition — especially eBay/PayPal, with a stack of consumer complaints that makes the endless floating debris in the Pacific ocean look like a couple of bath toys; Dell, whose support typically produces the same result as slamming your head in a car door; and Starbucks, who continues to dump vast amounts of waste into landfills rather than spend the money on offering recyclable cups.
But while it’s easy to poke fun at big corporations whose practices seem in direct opposition to the customers they serve, it does highlight one of the fundamental elements of sustainability. Beyond changing lightbulbs and focusing on renewable resources and environmental accountability, a critical element of sustainability is service. Whether that be service to customers, partners or employees, good stakeholder engagement is critical for building a sustainable business that is rooted in respect for those who are fundamental to your success.
When it comes to forging ahead in a sustainable market, in addition to the 3 “P’s” (People, Planet, Profit), businesses should be mindful of the 3 “C’s”:
- Customer: Customer experience is paramount to profitability by ensuring positive, timely and results-focused interactions where customers feel valued. People are willing to spend money on products and services that enhance their lives, and with whom they can feel confident that their best interests are in mind, not just shareholders in mahogany boardrooms. The thing about service is that you don’t know you need it until you need it, so swift support can make the difference between cultivating a loyal customer base who will champion your brand or losing customers, partners and, ultimtaly dollars, by turning a blind eye on the situation. Remember that customers are more likely to spread negative stories than positive ones, but if you deliver consistently on a brand promise of service, they may not have much to say but results will show in decimal points.
- Communication: No company is perfect. Nor do consumers expect them to be. And the occasional misstep or poor decision by senior management happens. But the key is not to spin it or release a vague, finely crafted quote from an executive team member. The market is much more savvy and those types of communications are quickly dismissed, and often end up doing more harm than good. Transparency and communicating authentically will set you apart and build trust with your customers and stakeholders. In that manner, you demonstrate you are a company that consumers can believe in, and as such, people will become personally invested in advancing your business.
- Consciousness: More than anything, consumers want to do business with companies who stand for something, so aligning your business with socially responsible activities and causes is an important strategy toward building a thriving, sustainable business. But again, the tenets of transparency and authenticity must guide the execution lest it be viewed as a causewashing tactic that will ultimately deteriorate your brand, and diminish your sales along with it.
In a market where greater demands are being levied on companies to be conscious and socially responsible, consumers will no longer support an overt consumer capitalist agenda. The days of pinstripe-suited business tycoons feasting on silver platters while their stakeholders eat cake are over. And those who perpetuate antiquated, self-serving agendas will become relics as the new people/planet-focused businesses emerge.