Customers, colleagues and citizens are all increasingly concerned about issues such as single-use plastic, carbon emissions, working conditions and whether an organization practices inclusion. According to PwC, two-thirds of financial institutions prioritize environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations in their transformation plans.
And yet, until now, experience management (XM) teams have only tinkered around the confines of ESG.
XM must be a key player in making ESG work. Satisfaction reports and metrics aren’t enough when leaders grapple with such intractable challenges as saving the planet and sustaining their business models. XM teams should broaden their scope to encompass the ESG topics that matter most to companies.
Experienced managers can take four key steps to ensure they support ESG in financial institutions.
1. Product development
Banks and investment managers are stepping up efforts to curate ESG indices and mutual funds to meet investor demand. As organizations invest in these new offerings, they need to channel an active community voice into the development of proposals.
Typically, for ESG, this can take the form of inserting additional questions into in-flight relationship feedback programs to understand key drivers of customer satisfaction. A common mistake, however, is integrating ESG issues into post-interaction customer support feedback programs, rather than cadence-based relationships. Not only is the support experience quite separate from the product experience, but this approach also risks soliciting negatively biased ESG feedback from customers who simply want to vent on poor service.
Other organizations take a more sophisticated approach. A wealth management company plans to launch a fund that will only invest in clients who have a tangible sustainability, diversity and inclusion plan. As part of this, they are exploring options for how they might pick up signals from the people who actually work for these companies, so they can understand what they really look like.
In this way, the work of the company’s XM team has the potential to affect the composition of the product itself. This is a good illustration of how experiential techniques can become a lens for measuring promises made versus promises kept – in this example, holding company management to account by ensuring that the he company does not inadvertently “green” its customers.
2. Shaping consumer habits
Forrester has dubbed the last decade the age of the customer. It’s true that consumers have been firmly in the driver’s seat: most companies’ XM programs are rooted in the principle that “the customer is always right” – from resolving individual customer issues to identifying areas of structural change. In the emerging field of ESG, however, there will be times when a company’s proposition will be a few steps ahead of that of its clients.
So what about the times when the customer might not be “right”?
As Harvard Business Review observes, “Behaviours, such as how we get to work, what we buy […] are part of our regular routines. Often, the key to spreading sustainable consumer behaviors is to break bad habits first, then encourage good ones. Forward-thinking XM teams can play a vital role in fueling these efforts to educate clients on ESG offerings.
In financial services, despite the growing availability of ESG indices and funds, it can be difficult for retail investors to get started, as the impact and composition of these products remains opaque. To solve this problem, companies must listen to their customers. An entry-level approach might be to A/B test messages on the product pages of a company’s website, to understand what resonates with audiences.
More advanced organizations are completely rethinking their approach to legacy research methodologies. An online trading platform has taken a technological approach to capturing information, shifting from reactive manual analysis to continuous real-time feedback. Not only did this allow a small team to double the volume of searches performed, but it also cut the time spent on ad research in half, reducing ad costs by 70%.
Companies should apply the same principle to ESG-focused campaigns, to measure customer perceptions and refine their communications in a quick and iterative way.
3. Create a goal-oriented culture
Another key component of an organization’s ESG plan should be its employee engagement strategy.
Millennials and Gen Z employees want to work for companies with purpose. As the Carson College of Business at Washington State University notes, “Gen Z employees have very different values and expectations than employees of older generations. The department’s report reveals that 83% of young employees want to have a positive impact on the world, with 70% clearly expressing a desire to work for a company whose values match their own.
Many organizations fail. As Gallup observes, while managers recognize the importance of understanding millennials, “they tend to fall back on their existing performance management policies and systems, or they try to quickly change their work environment to create what they think millennials want. They put ping-pong tables and free snacks in every corner of the office.”
Ping-pong and snacks are perks, not culture — and they’re certainly not a “goal.” So what do goal-oriented brands do differently? And how can organizations measure whether employees feel part of their employer’s ESG agenda, or whether voices are being missed?
A starting point should be to incorporate questions about ESG into regular employee impulses – for example: asking colleagues if they are satisfied with their employer’s commitment to ESG, to what extent they believe that their role has a significant impact on their employer’s ESG mission, or what really matters when working in an inclusive environment. Organizations should look to leverage text mining solutions, to understand themes and how they differ across employee demographics.
The same techniques should be employed in contexts other than employee engagement only. Financial institutions should also reach out to customers to measure the goal from a brand perspective. Going back to the example of the investment management firm creating an ESG fund – what will that do to the brand as a whole? How will customers feel about engaging with the company?
4. Engage in ESG dialogues
The challenges facing businesses today are very complex. To solve them, companies must start harnessing the creativity of their customers, employees and shareholders.
In other words: to drive real change, organizations need to engage in real dialogue.
It doesn’t happen enough. With regard to climate change, for example, Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale program on climate change communication, identifies a spiral of silence: “I might want to talk about climate change, but I don’t know what you think, and so I don’t want to cause waves […] And as a result, we find ourselves in this downward spiral, spiral, spiral where nobody talks about it.
And yet, work by Dr. Leiserowitz’s program shows that only a small minority of people remain firmly in climate change denial – ranging from just 2-4% in countries as diverse as Brazil, France and Japan at 12% in the United States. So, the first step in overcoming this spiral of silence is surely to facilitate conversations where the like-minded majority can focus their thoughts on ideation.
XM leaders are already looking to leverage customer insights to improve known pain points. Digital bank Illimity analyzes all customer suggestions against their expected impact and then translates them into actions. In the first year alone, 50 significant improvements in the overall experience brought the bank’s customer perception score to 48 against a banking market average of 9 – a 12 point increase year over year. number of customers willing to recommend the bank. Notably, during the same period, the bank recorded a 35% increase in net customer loans and investments.
Financial institutions that have not yet incorporated ESG into their ideas-to-action programs are missing opportunities to crowdsource suggestions for diversifying hiring pipelines, societal initiatives to sponsor, innovations to achieve goals carbon offsets and conservation, and more.
It’s time for XM teams to address ESG
Clients, colleagues, managers and shareholders care deeply about ESG. Experience functions must also care about the ultimate impact that ESG offers to those who succeed, but primarily because as a society and as a species we can no longer afford to be wrong in ESG matters. The best-in-class XM can help financial institutions help make a real difference – not just one micro-interaction at a time, but also on a planetary level.