2020 - the year that made doing the right thing profitable

Profile picture for user Simon Johnson By Simon Johnson July 19, 2021 Audio mode
Last year, consumers voted with their wallets based on customer service and corporate behaviour. Simon Johnson shares the latest survey results from Freshworks.

Profits shown in diagram © Gerd Altmann - Pixabay
(© Gerd Altmann - Pixabay)

“Morals are private. Decency is public,” said American novelist, screenwriter and civil rights campaigner, Rita Mae Brown.  We’ve all heard the phrase that it costs zero dollars to be a decent person. Most of organizations pay varying degrees of philosophical lip service to it in one form or another, but 2020 was different. It was the year global consumers made doing the right thing profitable.

A post-COVID-19 consumer survey Freshworks conducted in April 2021 among more than 10,500 customers from ten countries, revealed that more than a quarter of global consumers rewarded companies for treating their workers fairly and safely during COVID-19. It was a great example of consumers using their collective wallets to tell businesses to do the right thing and take care of their people. I think it speaks to the inherent sense of fairness we all want to see in the world. But by no means was it a one-off.

Global sentiments like this are just one example of the seismic shift that’s been steadily building in the workplace for some time. Now that digital transformation has accelerated most of the hard metrics around efficiency, productivity and speed, it’s widely acknowledged that it’s time to raise the bar on corporate behaviour, service and engagement.

Like most things, change is easily evidenced on a macro level. For example, corporate intentions around sustainability and the environment have shifted from policy and philosophy into action and change in recent years. In the same way businesses have recognized that we need to be kinder to the environment, it’s trickled down to a corporate desire to be kinder, more respectful and more tolerant to each other.  There’s a recognition that modern business requires a people-first approach. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business, good for performance, good for retention and good for customers.

It’s something my colleague and Freshworks Chief Marketing Officer, Stacey Epstein touched on last month in her article, “Why Happiness Is Corporate Currency.”  It’s clear that happiness – and indeed doing the right thing – begins and ends with strong internal relationships and genuine communication, which is exactly what Freshworks set out to address. It was the driving force behind building our cloud-based product portfolio around it so organizations can benefit from better CRM, customer experience, HR, Sales and Marketing and IT management.

Treating employees and customers fairly is a theme that extended to our recent ON Festival European event. If you missed any of the fantastic speakers – such as how Dame Inga Beale, drove digital transformation at Lloyds of London, or how Netflix Founder and start-up CEO Marc Randolph, harnessed a group of dreamers with no money and a bad idea to create the company that eventually brought down Blockbuster – you can watch the on-demand version of these and all the other great speakers from the ON Festival event here.

The other findings from our global research that stood out to me include the consumer desire for businesses to give back if their company grew in COVID-19. 71% of global consumers say companies should be giving back if they benefitted from lockdown measures via discounting and lower prices, and to the community and society as a whole. Some businesses have stepped up already. In December 2020, six of the UK’s largest supermarket chains volunteered to pay back £1.81 billion from government Covid-related support they received earlier in the year.

Secondly, I also found the customer service upheaval interesting. Globally, 31% of consumers now consider themselves more forgiving of brands when they have a bad experience, while 32% say they will be supporting those companies that maintained great levels of customer service.

The key to great levels of customer service requires people being treated fairly (employees not just customers) and of course the right digital tools for speed, efficiency, experience and productivity. Nearly half of UK consumers believe small businesses got better at customer service during 2020. This was attributed to providing better levels of personalisation, as well as improvements in online ordering, and delivery service. Other innovations such as improved websites and digital support like chatbots were also cited.

Delivering seamless delight through a range of in-person and digital channels is now a business mandate for companies across all markets, sizes and industries. This new breed of CRM, customer experience, HR, Sales and Marketing and IT management, combined with the growing shift to a people-first mindset are driving new levels of success in 2021 and beyond.