By Tamar Cohen
It’s lunchtime and just a few minutes remain before the next meeting. There are two pizza stores on the block – one next-door and one across the street. Both places know me, have what I like ready and waiting. But the place across the street offers something the place next-door doesn’t. When I buy my slice there, a portion of my payment is automatically donated to buy a homeless person a slice. In one decision, I get to buy myself lunch, offer up some instant charitable value and still make it back to the next meeting on time.
As a customer, I engage more loyally, because I can feel good about my purchase and know that I just spent money not only on myself, but also toward a greater good. The employees reinforce that sense of mission with their positive attitudes and dedication, because they know they are working to support causes that have tangible meaning. It is a trifecta of customer experience, employee engagement and CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs all in one action. Imagine the impact this can make when taken to the corporate level.
A revolution is already happening in corporate America at a global scale – corporations are taking notice and transforming what it means to have a marketable CSR program. Companies that implement these CSR programs authentically are winning at three levels – loyalty by customers, happier and more committed employees and, finally, providing meaningful purpose in society. This is beyond just good corporate strategy – this is your bottom line.
The revolution is that personal giving can now be integrated giving via CSR – meaning every company can help customers feel more connected to issues they care about and in turn, receive the halo effect of loyalty as a result. Customers everywhere are pressed for time, and now companies can tangibly help without impacting their customer’s day-to-day life. In other words: To make a real difference in the world and causes we believe in, don’t disrupt the consumer; disrupt CSR.
A thriving and successful customer experience program requires a parallel thriving and successful employee engagement program. Actively disengaged employees cannot be trained to love their customers if they do not believe in the product, or in their employer. They can be trained on methodologies, however, developing customer loyalty, which drives profitability and growth – cannot be trained. If customer experience is about creating an outside/in view, loyalty must be designed from the inside/out.
Corporate social responsibility builds the strongest foundation to demonstrate to customers and employees that the organization is committed to a full cycle of engagement – customer, employee, and the role of the company in society at large. Thinking through the overall human experience, the CSR program can be the core of this interaction. While there is increasing research around customer experience and tactics for varying levels of success, the strategic approach less explored is the role of CSR to demonstrate a deeper commitment to all people, completing this cycle of engagement.
This level of interconnectedness will reinforce each other and when executed as core to the strategic plan, the organization can manifest an experience that has positive impact on customers, employees, corporate perception, profitability and growth.
So, how can we move from strategy to execution?
1. State a mission or a social purpose
State it clearly. Broadcast it widely. Make it known consistently. In 2013, as many as 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies had explicitly stated CSR initiatives.
As importantly, the level of awareness on behalf of the consumer is also on the rise, in terms of recognizing the role of CSR in company branding. Luo & Bhattacharya wrote that in 1993, only 26 percent of consumers could name a company as a strong corporate citizen, while in 2004, the number surged to 80 percent.
Mission- or purpose-driven organizations are getting noticed, and it matters more and more to consumers.
2. Use honesty and authenticity as a core platform
In an article in the American Marketing Association journal, Xueming Luo & C.B. Bhattacharya pointed out that the value of CSR is only recognized when the commitment is authentic, the product being offered is of high value, and the company continues to innovate and prove relevance by industry expertise.
A company’s CSR program, as well as the corporate product/ service, both influence customers’ perceptions of the company’s products. The mission or stated purpose of the company must be honest for this alignment to work
3. Empower your employees to drive the purpose forward
From the employee’s perspective, the company’s contribution to societal good is reflected back with positive engagement and support. The recognition that in contributing to the success of the organization, the employee is also contributing to a social mission, can improve employee morale and productivity.
Taking the step further to allow employees to actively manage and promote additional layers to the program via volunteering, positive social media mentions, and other localized acts of kindness, will not only empower the employees but can also go further and deeper in promoting the company’s brand and position in overall market awareness.
4. Recognize the recruiting opportunity
Millennials want to know where their money is going when they invest in anything. As employees, they claim that they want a job “where I can make an impact.”
A Cone Communications survey found that most even agree that they would take a pay cut to achieve that goal. Overall, Americans have becoming more likely to consider a company’s reputation when making a purchase, employment and investment decisions.
5. Move CSR to a front-and-center function of your organization
Recognize this can be a low-cost effort to drive deeper on existing CSR programs which most Fortune 100 companies already have in place. These programs are already operationalized, staffed and managed. As customer experience and employee engagement programs become more fully fleshed out and developed within organizations, the existing CSR program can be tweaked to align to the customer and employee experience development. Costs and resources therefore, are minimal, though should be managed impactfully, to maintain authenticity – again, critical for success.
The simple end point is this – leveraging existing tools, existing programs, and existing (and approved) budget expense lines, corporations can take even bigger steps towards increasing their bottom lines in customer retention, reduce expense by enduring less employee attrition while doing even more for the communities they support and society at large. It can be, and is, that straightforward.
Image credit: Pixabay
Tamar Cohen is a seasoned customer experience financial services executive who is launching a new trademarked index and educational series focused on providing a 360 human engagement experience, while maintaining and growing profitability.