At the Zendesk Relate conference, a major theme that kept popping up was the importance of transparency, and using technology such as AI and automations to give customers a stronger say in how companies do business. We agree that these are some key business trends to watch for, and implement, in 2018.

Vice President of Public Policy and Social Impact at Zendesk, Tiffany Apczynski and Marketing Professor at Drexel University, Daniel Korschun also emphasized the importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the workplace. They believe businesses everywhere are losing their customers’ trust at an alarming rate, and this loss of trust is what drivers customers to seek out competitors that they are willing to trust.

Business has become more personalized, so the better your business is at listening to what their community values, the more likely they will generate and maintain healthy, long-term relationships with new and existing customers.

What is CSR?

CSR is not a new concept. In fact the United Nations Industrial Development Organization defines CSR as such:

“Corporate Social Responsibility is a management concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders.”

Many potential customers are reluctant to trust big companies because they often establish their headquarters in cheap (lower-income) communities, ignoring the ongoing issues surrounding the community. The public sees these businesses as being profit driven, without caring about the world around them. They have the ability to make a difference, but never act on it.

Businesses in our Trust Economy need to be constantly trying to find ways to stay connected to their customers at a personal level. When businesses play an active role in the community, giving off the impression that they actually care about things other than generating revenue, people are more willing to do business with them.

Why CSR Matters

CSR matters for a number of reasons. First, we live in a world where consumers are more conscientious about the products they buy. They want to know if your business treats its employees fairly, unlike Apple, whose overseas employees have made headlines for committing suicide due to such poor work conditions, or United Airlines, who didn’t respond strongly enough to a passenger getting dragged off their plane by Chicago Police for refusing to give up his seat.

Today’s consumer is socially and environmentally conscious with high expectations for businesses to act the same way. Trust for companies, especially big ones, is at an all time low. Most people know businesses are only after their money. This shouldn’t be a surprise because no business can be successful giving all their money away.

However, companies need to play a major role in the community. When they are aware of the world around them and are actively trying to make their presence known in it, customers will quickly embrace the new culture because they will see that their needs are being prioritized. This could lead to a more trustworthy customer base, who would ideally attract new customers based on recommendations and word-of-mouth.

Important CSR Statistics

  • 82% of millennial believe staying true to ethics and values is a competitive advantage.
  • 75% believe companies SHOULD be doing more.
  • 89% believe CX will be their primary basis for competition.
  • Agents that volunteered once every two months or more were 3 times more likely to be the top performers – they were the most empathetic of all advocates within the study, and 11% more likely to top on customer satisfaction.

These statistics are important because they show a significant change in the way we deem businesses as successful. People are more conscious of how employers treat their agents and how they interact with the environment.

When businesses and their customers share and, express to each other, these common interests, they’re connecting on a personal level and making it easier to trust one another because community interests are not revenue-focused/friendly actions.

Community-conscious agents are more likely to work harder for your company when they know they’re making a difference outside of work too. This, in turn, could lead to increased revenue long-term.

This shift in culture leads to agents being more willing to help their customers and see them as human beings. This will naturally improve their customer support skills, and customers will be more willing to work with the company. In other words, treating each other the way we want to be treated goes a long way in the business world.

Millennials…

Millennials, most importantly, are more likely to take CSR into account when buying products or looking for work. Apczynski says, “You have a capacity to make a profit, but you also have a capacity to invest into your community and give back.” This is huge.

If your business doesn’t care about the younger generations, which place a strong emphasis on equality, and your business doesn’t try to sympathize with your community’s beliefs, you will lose out on lots of potential growth and revenue. Millennials are soon to be, if not already, the primary market to sell to.

Bash them all you want for being lazy and unable to grow up, even though that would be naive and cliche, but they matter, and their social values matter. CSR is the future for business, and you’d only be shooting yourself in the foot to ignore the the millennials that are searching for companies they can trust.

An Example of What Not to Do

Tiffany Apczynski gave us a great example of what not to do at the Zendesk Relate Conference if you’re a company interested in CSR. This is a paraphrased, simplified version of her own first-hand encounter with a taxi-service:

Apczynski needed a taxi so she arranged to have one pick her up. Upon entering the cab, she noticed the cab driver making racist comments in conversation.  She said this made the entire experience uncomfortable, having to listen to this driver openly expressing his hateful beliefs.

She then decided to tweet at the company to hopefully resolve this problem. Instead of receiving a thoughtful answer acknowledging the awkward and potentially hurtful situation she was in, she simply received a canned, generic response from the company.

The canned response (don’t get us wrong — canned responses can be great in certain situations) only made the situation much worse than it already was and lowered Apczynski’s trust in the process. Most people are willing to assume that companies do not see these situations as normal, but when the company gave her problem such little attention, it made her feel as if they don’t care about and place value in equality.

So what should have happened?

The company should have reached out for more information right away. They should have stressed how important diversity is to them, and that these situations are uncommon and not representative of their own beliefs. They should have asked for the name of the driver and then dealt with him accordingly.

The way your agents act and the way your business responds to situations like these are a direct reflection of your company’s values. If the company sees racism as something worthy only of a canned response, then you’re telling your customers that racism is not worthy of being handled personally.

These things, no matter the size of your company, cannot slip through the eyes of your customers. And this is where CSR  comes in — an emphasis on interacting with the community as part of the corporate culture could prevent these situations from happening. If drivers or, at minimum, support agents were spending time working with their community, they would understand that in a city like San Francisco, let alone the entire world, racism will not be tolerated. They would care more about expressing these values with their customers.  

Going even further, if they took that into account, the company would have had strong, disciplinary measures in place, or would have taken the time to evaluate their candidates’ values during the interview, so someone like that driver wouldn’t be hired in the first place.

Examples of CSR

CSR is about establishing trust in a world that emphasizes shared values. Your business has to see CSR as more than just feel-good actions; it’s about changing the culture of your business and being more transparent and active in your community. Here are some ways CSR can be/have been successfully implemented.

1. Volunteering

Volunteering in the community is a great way to give back to it. There are always events that could use a helping hand. Agents should have a strong desire to work with the community to build trust. This doesn’t have to be every single week, but encourage volunteering in the community at least once a quarter.

  • Hire agents who enjoy and/or have experience doing community service.
  • Encourage agents to volunteer regularly by offering incentives, maybe even use a gamification process for rewards.

2. Hiring Locally

If your business is trying to either do business with the community around you or have the community see you favorably, hiring people from the area can express your desire to work with the community instead of the other way around.

  • Hire from within the community, especially if they play an active role in it.
  • Coordinate internship program with local schools to get young students involved.

3. Run By The Community

The Green Bay Packers are unique in that they are the only NFL team that is publicly owned. They reached out to the public to avoid bankruptcy. Normally, the NFL states that teams need to be owned by either a single owner or a small group of owners, but the Packers did this in 1923 — way before the rule was put in place.

  • Give your community the power to have a say in your business.
  • Truly listen to what the community has to say, and act on the desired changes, show that your business cares about more than just profit.

4. Coordinating Community Events

There’s much more that could be done aside from volunteering. Schools, charities, and community organizers hold all kinds of public events year round. Many events, such as street fairs, put an emphasis on showcasing local businesses.

  • Attend, coordinate, and volunteer at events that showcase local businesses.
  • Sponsor events to show your support for your community.

5. Train Your Support Team

Your support team has everything to gain from CSR because they are the frontline of trust. As you saw before, the taxi company didn’t have a well-trained support team and made a bad situation much worse. They have the most contact with customers so they need to understand your customers’ and community’s social values to be effective.

  • Outline your business’ ethics so agents know how to handle specific issues.
  • Emphasize the significance of using social media as a customer support channel.

The Final Word

CSR is a significant business-culture change that brings in empathy, and allows us to connect with humans as humans, which can lead to more proactive, patient, and emotionally intelligent agents. 

Community outreach benefits everyone. Although it technically isn’t necessary for your business to have a strong relationship with your community, they can bail you out like the town of Green Bay did for the Packers.

This leads to better interactions with customers, improving overall satisfaction. The cost of bad customer experiences can be staggering, but when the community believes you’re after their best interests, they will be more likely to open up and do business with you.