Community Responsibility Starts with Customer Care

I’m a bit of a news hound. I wake up to the Today show on BBC Radio 4. I check the news headlines on two or three sites. I receive emails daily from several news aggregators. As we all know, bad news tends to dominate.

To be sure, there are some great news stories out there—like this one featuring a 4-year old superhero who spends all his money feeding homeless people. Sometimes the news is more startling than bad. You know, the type that makes you go ‘whaaa?’

Absent strong community engagement, old economy industries risk rapid disruption.

Just this month, I read that UK insurers have finally committed to fairer premiums for long-term customers. Until now, repeat customers have been consistently over-paying because of the widespread practice of discounting to attract new customers.

On the same day it was announced that our rail industry has entered into a public consultation round on reforming its arcane ticketing practices that see some customers not being offered the cheapest ticket because of ‘long-standing anomalies’.

Here we have companies that we depend on for vital day-to-day services admitting that for years, even decades, they have been gouging their customers. Because they could. It beggars belief.

The new economy can’t come soon enough.

They say you’re supposed to get more patient as you get older. Now that I’m in my sixth decade(!), the opposite seems to be happening.

Junxion is nurturing a new economy that serves the common good—starting with a deep commitment to customers.

Here at Junxion we talk about nurturing a ‘new economy’ that serves the common good. We encourage companies to look beyond their financial bottom line to consider wider interests as they plan their strategies. There are any number of frameworks and reference points to consider, including being a Certified B Corp—as Junxion is—which helpfully frames the systemic change we need to see as moving from shareholder capitalism to stakeholder capitalism.

What is your environmental impact? How are you involved in social or community affairs? How are you looking after your employees? What kind of business relationship are you creating with your key suppliers?

In the case of insurers and rail operators, though, we see businesses that are not even looking after their customers properly! Their arrogance is startling. Their single-mindedness to maximise profits seems so last century, and yet it apparently remains pervasive.

What brands do you know you can’t trust?

A brand is more than a logo, it’s an expectation of an experience.

The experience of being a customer is the most fundamental way people interact with a business. The value in that exchange also goes beyond the purely transactional; it includes the financial element, of course, but it also relies on the functional and emotional benefits customers derive from purchasing products and services. Our problem is solved, our need is met, we feel more assured, more confident in our future in some way as a result. Great brands engender trust and loyalty by keeping the promise of the expectation they offer.

How are customers to feel about UK insurers news of this month? Surely, long-term customers who know their loyalty is being exploited for profit will lose trust in those companies? This is the very opposite of what a brand experience should be designed to deliver.

In an industry so vital as insurance, when companies go this far wrong at the level of business basics, we’re left wondering how they can meaningfully engage in their communities. Can they legitimately seek to make a positive difference in the world? Of course not. But those insurers need to be looking over their shoulder.

Disruption is coming. In fact it’s already here.

From great customer service to making a positive difference.

Growing six-fold over the last 12 years, Simply Business is now one of the UK’s largest business insurers. Declaring that ‘the current insurance model is broken,’ CEO Jason Stockwood set out a manifesto in late 2013 that focuses on what customers wanted from their insurers: more simplicity, more honesty, more focus on people, and more listening.

As well as this razor-sharp focus on customer service, Simply Business has always prided itself on being a great place to work, winning multiple awards in 2015 and 2016. And in 2017 Simply Business became a Certified B Corp and made its promise to use business as a force for good in the world.

Fulfilling this commitment in its community outreach programme, Simply Business set its staff a ‘create something better’ hackathon challenge to make something that would either improve customer service or be good for society.

Drawing inspiration from their long-term partnership with disability charity Whizz Kids, the team at Simply Business put their tech skills to work and made a voice-activated app that helps people with disabilities plan accessible travel routes on public transport in London. Linking in with Transport for London’s API, the search tool, which is available on Google Home and Amazon Alexa, suggests only accessible routes and recalculates the journey time accordingly.

Look at your community. How can you harness your skills for good?

Harnessing their skills for good, Simply Business is helping young wheelchair users enjoy London and so help Whizz Kids fulfil their mission of seeing all young people fulfil their potential.

From customers to community. From community to societal value.

Simply Business embodies some of our top tips for successful community engagement:

  • Link your community engagement to your business values. Simply Business prides itself on making life as easy as possible for its customers, being open and honest, and celebrating diversity.
  • Harness your people’s skills. Rather than merely settling for everyday community engagement, apply the skills that already exist in your business for a social good that’s harder for community partners to bring about on their own. At the heart of Simply Business is a smart use of data and technology capabilities. Their partnership with Whizz Kids is a shining example of turning these skills to societal benefit.
  • Seek to make a real difference. In the traditional ‘charity of the year’ model, relationships are just being formed between charity and company as the year closes. Simply Business strives to be ambitious and has committed to work with Whizz Kids for at least ten years.

Here we have a company that recognizes that key to the future success of their business is trust. The brief for the hackathon recognizes that they can build trust in one of two key ways—either by focusing on customers or on our wider society. Both are necessary today to be a genuine TrustBrand. And both are needed to build the shared and durable prosperity for all that we need to see in the world.

 

Adam Garfunkel is an owner of Junxion Strategy and Managing Director of our London office. He’s spent more than 20 years helping companies to connect with their customer and society. Reach him via [email protected]

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