This week, we feature an article by Niraj Ranjan Rout, Founder and CEO of Hiver, a customer experience platform that helps teams collaborate and communicate across departments. He talks about how amazing customer experience can be sustainable. Customer experience (CX) has become a core operational necessity. Better CX equals happier customers, which in turn helps […]
This week, we feature an article by Niraj Ranjan Rout, Founder and CEO of Hiver, a customer experience platform that helps teams collaborate and communicate across departments. He talks about how amazing customer experience can be sustainable.
Customer experience (CX) has become a core operational necessity. Better CX equals happier customers, which in turn helps contribute to healthier bottom lines.
But as CEOs, we’re also tasked with looking at the broader picture. And increasingly, that picture includes sustainability.
So, what happens when these two imperatives—customer experience and sustainability—meet? Do these two objectives clash?
While our focus on improving CX has led to innovations in customer service, it has also cast a shadow we can no longer ignore: the environmental impact of our traditional customer service operations.
Traditional call centers, those hubs of customer interaction that operate around the clock, are an illustrative example of the sustainability challenge within the customer experience industry.
Call centers consume around four times more energy per square foot than typical offices, and in the U.S., they use a staggering 3 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This is noteworthy because energy costs can account for 5-20% of a call center’s operating expenses. Additionally, the average call center agent uses around 30% more energy compared to a typical office worker, and call centers consume approximately six times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings.
But energy usage is just one part of the equation. The technological infrastructure of call centers contributes to another growing concern: electronic waste. With a typical computer’s lifespan ranging from 3-5 years in a call center setting, outdated equipment often ends up contributing to the ever-growing pile of global e-waste. In 2021, 57.4 million metric tonnes of e-waste were generated worldwide, and only a meager 17.4% of this was collected and properly recycled.
To compound the issue, the human element brings another layer of complexity. Employees commuting to these centers contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, which are a major environmental concern. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that the transportation sector accounts for about 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Considering the vast number of employees traveling to these large call centers five to six days a week, their collective contribution to these emissions highlights the considerable environmental impact of this daily travel.
Rounding out this less-than-rosy picture is paper waste. Despite advancements in digital technology, paper use in office settings, including call centers, remains high. The average office worker goes through about 10,000 sheets of paper per year, and almost half of this paper ends up in the trash, contributing to environmental harm. Producing one ton of paper, as reported by the Environmental Paper Network, requires a staggering 253 gallons of petrol.
In sum, the traditional call center—so integral to customer satisfaction—stands as a striking example of the environmental cost that can come with maintaining high levels of customer service. Acknowledging this reality is the first crucial step toward integrating more sustainable practices, both for the longevity of our businesses and the health of our planet.
The question we must urgently ask ourselves is not whether we can afford to make CX roles sustainable but whether we can afford not to. How do we pivot from traditional customer service practices, which have often been energy-intensive and wasteful, to a model that is both effective and environmentally responsible?
Embracing remote work is an immediate lever for minimizing the environmental toll of customer service. Take the example of TTEC, a global customer experience technology solutions company. They transitioned to a remote workforce model in response to the pandemic, reducing both the daily commute for employees and the operational costs associated with maintaining large, energy-intensive office spaces.
A simple pop-up reminder in the customer portal of an e-commerce platform can prompt a majority of your users to opt for digital invoices over paper ones, drastically reducing paper usage.
Talking about scale, let’s consider smart upselling strategies. Patagonia is the epitome of responsibility here. Instead of just pushing new products, they encourage customers to repair their existing clothing. One of their most notable initiatives is the “Worn Wear” program, which encourages customers to trade in their used Patagonia items for store credit. These used items are then cleaned, repaired, and resold at a lower cost. This not only extends the life of each garment but also reduces the need to manufacture new items, thereby saving resources and reducing waste.
Subscription models for consumable items can be another instrument for eco-friendly practices, reducing the frequency of shipments and the associated carbon footprint. Moreover, well-informed customer support reps can extend the life of a product by providing maintenance tips to customers. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also mitigates the environmental damage of a throwaway culture.
Amazon’s “Subscribe & Save” feature similarly discourages frequent, smaller purchases in favor of bulk, scheduled deliveries, thus reducing shipment-related emissions.
To prolong product lifespan, Dyson has taken a proactive approach by offering in-depth online tutorials and maintenance guides, reducing the need for part replacements or new purchases.
In terms of logistics and delivery, companies like UPS and Walmart are fine-tuning their operations to be more eco-friendly. UPS uses advanced route optimization software to minimize distances traveled, while Walmart has been experimenting with off-peak hours delivery to reduce emissions.
The crux of the matter is this: Every touchpoint in customer service, from the first interaction to the final delivery, offers an opportunity to incorporate more sustainable practices. Real-world examples from TTEC to Patagonia to UPS are a testament to the idea that going green isn’t just an ethical choice; it’s good business.
Questions can be the catalysts that spark meaningful change. So let’s reframe our queries from just “How can we improve our bottom line?” to “How can we couple financial growth with long-lasting environmental impact?”
Instead of asking, “How can we boost customer satisfaction?” let’s expand that to “How can we enhance customer satisfaction in a way that also educates and empowers customers to make sustainable choices?”
These are the kinds of questions that take us from being transactional leaders to transformational ones. By reframing the conversation, we’re not just tweaking our business models; we’re overhauling our entire corporate ethos. It’s through asking these kinds of questions that we’ll pave the way for a future where business objectives and environmental objectives aren’t just parallel tracks but two lines converging towards a more sustainable, equitable world.
Niraj Ranjan Rout is the Founder and CEO of Hiver.
Read Shep’s latest Forbes article: ChatGPT: The Digital Cyrano De Bergerac Of Modern Business
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