Can customers win the fight against global warming?

Responsible use of data can help

If there’s one thing that gets me going it’s being told I should change my behaviour in order to affect something of global significance. Don’t get me wrong, I recycle religiously, drive a small car and don’t eat a lot of meat but nevertheless my inner libertarian gets worked up when I hear that we should all “do our bit” to combat global warming by making lifestyle choices.

If only it were that simple.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is as welcome as it is disturbing. I may not be around when a global temperature rise of 2% causes irreversible damage to the planet, but I’d like to think it could be averted or the effects lessened by limiting the rise to 1.5% as the report recommends.

But we won’t get there by suddenly converting to veganism: concerted effort is required at an international level to reduce CO2 emissions as well as shifting the demand towards goods that have a lower impact.

Customers to the rescue

This isn’t a political publication so I’m not going to say anything about the willful ignorance of some administrations with regard to climate change and whether humans are the cause. Let’s assume that if you’ve got this far you think we could have something to do with it and leave it at that.

This is a customer experience piece though, so what can customers do, and how does customer experience figure in it?

I was heartened to read a piece in Marketing Week that revealed that grocery behemoth Tesco is using marketing data from its loyalty scheme to encourage people to eat more healthily. This is an important issue: obesity is on the rise and the consequences for healthcare – and the economic impacts – are significant. The various initiatives Tesco is undertaking – removing the sweet aisle from the checkout, handing our pieces of fruit to children – should help to nudge their customers towards a healthier choice.


I particularly like their “helpful little swaps” initiative which compares the prices of healthier – and cheaper – alternatives to a customer’s bill. Anything that helps people take more control over their health seems like a good thing to me, even if – to be cynical for a moment – you suspect that the alternatives might make better economic sense for Tesco as well.

Again, this is data driven, as it allowed Tesco to see what worked and what didn’t and whether their customers understood what “healthy” meant in terms of their shopping basket. They could then adjust the mix of promotions accordingly. They have now partnered with TV chef Jamie Oliver, a noted campaigner against unhealthy food to develop exclusive recipe content.

Imagine there’s no future

What’s all this go to do with global warming? We may all be eating healthily but that matters not one jot if the earth is scorching beneath our feet. Exactly! We may hear the exhortations to eat healthily and act more sustainably but – in my view – that’s not enough to make a sufficiently large number of people act differently to significantly shift the dial on health measure or our carbon footprint. (Also, actions to improve personal health have a visible payback: if I eat well I generally look and feel better, so public health campaigns can have some effect. Combating global warming is too easily seen as someone else’s problem: it won’t affect me until it’s too late.)

It strikes me that persuading retailers – possibly working in some form of cooperative alliance – to act to promote goods with a lower carbon footprint would have a bigger impact than trying to dictate to the population at large. Tesco’s use of customer data shows how you can fine tune this type of campaign and use it to commercial advantage.

Enlightened commercial self-interest may just be the best way to keep the planet safe for the next generation.


4 questions to check… are you exploiting your complaints goldmine?

Have you got PPI? Do you think you might have had PPI? I’ve lost count of the times that some click-bait ad has popped up to ask me that question or, on some occasions, I’ve had to take a phone call from someone aggressively selling me PPI claims services I don’t need. Well, now the Financial Conduct Authority has got in on the act and enrolled none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in an advert to urge people to get their claims in before 29th August 2019.

In my not-expert view it’s a crap advert, but it’s clearly been effective, as it’s resulted in over a million visits to the FCA website’s PPI pages. And this is actually good news because PPI mis-selling was an outrageous con perpetrated on banking customers – everyone who bought a policy without realising it should get their money back.

Despite its dubious qualities as an ad, I say hats off to the FCA for giving people an Arnie-sized shove to complain.

Because I don’t think as customers we complain enough.

And, moreover, I don’t think companies realise what a goldmine they are sitting on when customers do complain.

You heard it: complaints are a goldmine.

But they’re a goldmine that’s under-used.

Think about it: a customer who complains about a sub-standard product or service has taken the time to tell you how that product or service fell short of their expectations. And since you set those expectations, that’s direct feedback on product and service quality.

How does this valued resource get treated? I’d say, pretty poorly.

Try this simple test. Does your company:

  1. Reward people who provide feedback?
  2. Empower people in customer contact/complaints handling roles to provide redress or compensation when complaints are received?
  3. Keep the customer informed throughout the process of the complaint and ensure that they leave the process with a better opinion of you than when they started?
  4. Dedicate sufficient resource to understanding the nature of complaints, their root causes and any underlying systemic issues that make it tough to eradicate the root cause?

If you’ve answered yes to all four questions, you probably don’t need to be reading this article (but thanks for getting this far!) and I’m guessing your company enjoys an outstanding reputation for customer experience. If you answered no to any of those, then you’re not capitalising on that free or near-free resource, so here’s how to fix it:

1. Incentivise customers to provide feedback

It doesn’t have to be a big incentive – Pizza Express runs a ‘How Did We Dough’ (groan) service that provides customers with a voucher for a free portion of dough balls every time they feed back on a specific dining event. It’s kept me in additional dining out calories on quite a few occasions and must cost the restaurant chain next to nothing to administer.

2. Empower the front line

A great many customer satisfaction issues can be resolved at the time they occur, saving a vast amount in back office processing costs. But the problem is for many large organisations that there’s too much process and not enough trust. You have intelligent people in your company: time to start relying on them to do the right thing.

3. Make sure your complaint handling process delivers a great customer outcome

Too often, the outcome of a complaint handling process is to minimise or control the amount paid out in compensation rather than to focus getting the customer to be a raving fan of the company. When I worked on a remediation project for a major bank I was astonished to find that nobody bothered to ask customers what they thought of how their case had been handled and what they now thought of the company. I’m guessing that their opinions might not have been great, but if you don’t ask, you have no idea how well your process is working. Keeping the customer informed about progress is another way to keep customers dissatisfaction from worsening while you consider their grievance.

4. Invest in analysis and actioning the results

This is probably the hardest bit – or at least it seems to be, because I keep coming across root cause analysts who don’t have enough resource to do this highly necessary job. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the data’s usually rubbish – badly classified or with insufficient recording around the time of the incident (and that’s why PPI has taken so long to sort out and cost the banking industry so much), and secondly the job’s not a glamorous one – you’ll get more management attention for a customer experience improvement project that targets NPS scores than one that tells you why those scores are poor in the first place.

And that last point is worth re-iterating: because you’re mining data and customer experience for things that don’t work and need fixing, you’re going to be ‘underground’ dealing with inadequate processes and all the sad customer stories that result. It’s unglamorous, dirty work but, with the right resource, can deliver ‘gold’ not just in terms of customer satisfaction but in improvements to the company’s bottom line.

As Arnie would say: ‘Do it’.