TECHNOLOGY HAS empowered consumers. So should businesses listen to what is being said and use it to shape the way we work? Martin Chilcott reports.
The world is changing fast. With the effects of climate change, a global population heading to nine billion and a dramatic expansion of the middle classes, our ability to consume the Earth’s natural resources is now significantly greater than the planet’s ability to rejuvenate and restore them. Coupled with this, we are now in the age of social media and the empowered customer. Businesses are faced with a unique pincer movement of increasing environmental threats and the need to manage the expectations of a digital and increasingly concerned consumer.
These macro and micro problems result in new compliance issues, new reporting, expectations, consumer pressure and risks. If businesses are to succeed they cannot afford to ignore or disengage with their stakeholders. Equally, by not interweaving stakeholder engagement with company strategy, they are increasingly at risk. Take Coca-Cola’s debacle in India where it was forced to abandon a newly built £15m bottling plant as the result of a sustained campaign against the company’s activities and its effects on groundwater conditions. Could this have been avoided if engagement with the local community had been stronger and the pitfalls understood earlier?
The foodservice sector is founded on multiple relationships covering both B2B and B2C, and a culture that is heavily reliant on tenders and bids. Sharing evidence of stakeholder engagement across B2B and B2C can be used as a contract-winning differentiation, especially if companies can demonstrate they are listening to and providing what the customer values most. For example, Walmart has demanded that its suppliers phase out 10 hazardous chemicals from the fragrances, cosmetics, household cleaners and personal care products it stocks, in response to consumer concerns.
The reasons for greater engagement on sustainability are compelling but this process of letting consumers and stakeholders show the way is not without pitfalls. Traditional engagement activity from companies often relies on talking to the people you know, the easy to reach, those most likely to give you what you want to hear with little in the way of surprises or tangible results.
There is of course also a danger that letting stakeholders show the way becomes a tick- box exercise (especially if it’s not allocated adequate time and resources). And then there’s the human aspect: most of us don’t like criticism, and with engagement there needs to be a corporate culture of actually accepting or embracing criticism.
But despite these dangers, the rewards of engagement are worth it. Greater engagement can increase brand value, build trust with consumers and stakeholders and also inspire product development. For example, O2 Telefónica recently worked with 2degrees and its community of 42,000 sustainability professionals to create a dialogue, the ideas from which are being fed into the company’s ideas and thoughts for its future product range and offering.
Industrial globalisation and communication technology have given businesses the tools to change the rules, enabling companies to communicate in breadth and at scale on an unprecedented level. Companies which aren’t engaging externally are in danger of damaging their reputation, limiting new service offerings and harming business development and retention. It’s therefore critical for companies to look beyond the board and gain external views.
Martin Chilcott is CEO and founder of 2degrees