How to Train Your Customer Service Staff to Talk About Sustainability

Green call center

Although the skills needed to create engaging and valuable experiences are the same, the reasons why people contact customer service have changed a lot in recent years.

This means that brand representatives need to expand their areas of expertise and learn to address issues that may not have been pain points in the past.

Sustainability is perhaps the best example in this regard. About a decade ago, brand sustainability was a topic that only a few eco-aware customers enquired about and that barely occupied a paragraph on the company’s website.

Now, sustainability concerns are at an all-time high, and interest in the matter will not go away anytime soon. As environmentalists warn us that we have very little time to take action or suffer serious consequences, the pressure falls on commercial and industrial pollutants to change their ways and place sustainability at the core of their brand.

Not very long ago, people would contact customer service to ask about prices, custom orders or to describe a negative experience they had with their brand. Numerous studies have shown that today, people are increasingly eco-aware, and they will not hesitate to contact customer service to talk about sustainability.

It’s yet another task for a department that already has to deal with a lot – including unhappy or confused customers. However, failing to address sustainability is a huge mistake that may affect your brand’s reputation. Customer service is a major channel of communication between you and your audience, which is why they should be the first to know how to talk about it.

If you went to great lengths to make your business more sustainable, it’s not enough to write a blog post about it and talk about it on social media. When asked about it, the customer service team should also know how to answer. Otherwise, your stance may pass for a non-genuine publicity stunt.

Get everyone involved and make sustainability part of your brand ethos

To ensure communication consistency, it’s advisable to have one or two customer service representatives who specialize in sustainability and can answer even the most detailed questions. These representatives can also be in charge of talking to the press, if applicable. However, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the department should not be involved.

If sustainability matters to you, and you want to show that you’re serious about it, it has to be part of your brand ethos, and every customer service representative should know how to talk about it – at least at a basic level.

Most importantly, they should be aware of the company’s environmental efforts, including following the right waste management practices, such as sorting waste and using Miltek compactors. They should recycle as much as possible, reduce their carbon footprint at work, and source supplies from ethical companies. The more your staff follows sustainable practices, the better they will know how to explain them to your customers.

Sustainability questions your team should expect

When getting a job in customer service, most candidates expect to use soft skills such as patience, empathy and diplomacy. And, for the most part, they will use such skills to help customers find the right product or solve a misunderstanding. New staff may not expect sustainability questions when they pick up the phone, and when they do, they freeze because they weren’t trained to deal with that.

To avoid coming across as unprepared, educate your customer service staff about the company’s sustainability policy. Some of the questions they may be asked include:

  • What is the company’s sustainability policy?
  • Do you have a sustainability goal? Have you reached your sustainability goal?
  • What is your company doing to fight waste?
  • Are your products eco-friendly and recyclable?
  • Where do you source your materials?
  • What is the carbon footprint of your production process?
  • Do you test on animals?
  • Do you have a certificate of sustainability?
  • Is your brand involved in sustainability programs?

When answering such questions, customer service representatives should provide specific examples. The more numbers, the better. Today’s customers are informed, and, in the same way they are passionate about the environment, they are equally able to recognize greenwashing. So, if a customer service rep explains that your company recycles and does good things for the environment without mentioning exactly how, they might not sound believable.

Needless to say, when addressing sustainability concerns, your customer service team should have the same approachable and helpful attitude as they do with other queries. Communication and transparency are essential when discussing sustainability practices.

Train your staff to address sensitive areas, not just achievements

One of the biggest mistakes managers make when training their staff on how to talk about sustainability is that they focus heavily on their achievements and the way they are helping their environment, but not how to address problem areas – or, at least, the areas that still need improvement.

Why is this a mistake? Because eco-aware customers hate it when brands take credit for some improvements and fail to address “the elephants in the room.”

For example, fast-fashion giant H&M has conducted a series of PR campaigns where they talk about being some of the largest organic cotton and recycled polyester users. However, when they are asked on social media about what they’re doing to fight inhumane working conditions, they give vague responses.

The truth is that becoming 100% sustainable is a difficult endeavor, and it takes a lot of work. No brand is perfect, and, as a brand, you have to communicate not just your achievement but also your commitment to do better. This way, you will nurture a stronger, more genuine connection with your audience and build consumer trust.

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