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What’s the value in connecting sustainability and customer experience?

4-minute read

Customer experience (CX) and sustainability are two of the leading trends currently impacting growth, customer loyalty and competitive advantage. Yet for decades sustainability has been bandied about as an unrealistic ideal. Something embraced by idealistic environmentalists, but deemed unrealistic in the commercial realm.

The argument often put forward by business is that going the sustainability route with recycled packaging or sustainably sourced resources is too costly, requires too much organizational change and eats into profits, leaving shareholders unhappy. Coupled with this is the belief that consumers won’t be willing to pay more. All of that is changing. 

Consumers, especially younger generations, are becoming more aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions. They’re choosing to spend with brands that amplify their sustainability practices and moving away from those who aren’t. This is driving a new approach to sustainability that is firmly linked to customer experience. 

Brands are now considering how best to link their sustainability efforts to consumer touchpoints. And how to achieve this in a way that is authentic and contributes to improved customer experiences? 

Leveraging sustainability as a way to improve CX

While the need for sustainability is not new, it has become a more urgent priority for brands. Aside from the scientific case on the importance of sustainability, one of the major reasons is because of how it is shaping consumer behavior and driving demand. 

Perhaps this is due to increased environmental awareness, thanks in part to numerous news reports of the increase in natural disasters and extreme weather events. Perhaps it’s due to the growing interest consumers have in watching documentaries—many of which highlight social and environmental causes. Or perhaps it’s consumers simply realizing the power they have to drive demand and reduce negative impacts on the planet in the process. 

While the trend towards greater sustainability may be fueled by any number of reasons, the reality is that sustainability matters to consumers. Brands failing to embed this into customer experiences will find themselves at a disadvantage. 

Customer experience has already been identified as a greater brand differentiator than product or pricing. Leveraging sustainability efforts as part of the customer journey is a way to increase differentiation and build trust. 

The caveat is that these efforts need to be authentic. Highly informed consumers are quick to call out greenwashing and virtue signaling. But highlighting sustainability in a genuine way as part of the consumer journey and demonstrating to consumers the impacts of these efforts can help fulfill a brand promise. A promise that extends beyond the benefits of the product to helping consumers move closer to their desired purpose. 

This purpose may be defined as having a greater social impact and less of an environmental impact. For some consumers it’s about seeking out experiences that align with their personal values. The bottom line is that consumers want to feel good about their purchases. When customer experiences align with sound sustainability practices it helps to build customer loyalty. 

How can brands bring sustainability into the CX conversation?

There are many opportunities to bring sustainability into the conversation as part of the customer journey. This requires understanding a product life cycle and how sustainability factors into consumer expectations at different touchpoints. Without this it is difficult to create meaningful connections with consumers on points that matter to them. Consumers are concerned about the social and environmental impact of their buying decisions. If brands fail to address this it can result in friction and poor customer experiences.  

For example: It used to be enough for brands to have packaging where at least part of it was recyclable. Now the expectations are far greater. Not only should the packaging be recyclable, it should be made from recycled materials and be greatly reduced in volume. The tendency for brands to over package products with multiple layers has come under the spotlight because many of those layers are not recyclable and end up in landfill. When brands fail to communicate how their packaging is sourced or how it can be recycled, the assumption is that it can’t be.  This uncertainty can cause friction and make potential customers doubt their decision to buy. 

By contrast, a strategy that focuses on building better connections with consumers at every touchpoint in the journey can make them feel that they’re partnering with a brand to create a more sustainable future. It’s a way to create brand advocates because it creates meaningful engagements that drives loyalty. This translates into consumers spending more over time which increases the customer lifetime value.

The challenge in achieving this is that consumers have their own priorities when it comes to sustainability. In order to know what the next best experience would be to serve as part of the journey, brands need to be able to see how consumers are navigating a website and  responding to ideas. Even something as simple as how  a product description page is formatted and what information is displayed can influence whether visitors like and trust what they’re seeing enough to progress in the journey.    

Experimentation that improves CX and builds loyalty with sustainability in mind

With so many elements impacting sustainability, so many ways to optimize across the  whole customer journey and so many different consumer preferences, it’s essential to have the ability to scale experimentation to connect all the dots. 

This is made possible with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI).  AI-driven experience optimization learns from how visitors respond to ideas at specific touchpoints in the journey. Based on these learnings, it then identifies which experiences to serve next to keep each individual visitor engaged and progress in the customer journey. 

Building connections through relevant and engaging experiences communicates that a brand understands what matters to its customers. It not only builds the brand promise but also helps deliver on it by maintaining consistent experiences at every touchpoint. By tying experiences into what consumers value there is the opportunity to also improve personalization in the process.  

Customer experience may be one of the leading points of differentiation and brands that get on board with impactful sustainability efforts and incorporate elements into the customer journey, have even more to gain. Consumers are actively seeking out brands that operate more sustainably. Experience optimization helps connect the dots and create relevant consistent experiences that turn consumers into brand advocates. 

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