Doing good: 5 tips for consumer questions about your ethics
Disclosure: I'm really fussy about pillows. They have to be just the right level of firm-but-soft. And their filling mustn't come apart and ball up inside.
When it comes to these qualities, feathers and downs usually win. But they have an ugly track record of animal cruelty.
Many of the feathers and downs in our pillows come from factory farms where birds are plucked alive, put back in their cages to grow more feathers, and plucked again until they die.
I shudder to think of it. Sleeping on a pillow filled with the downs of screaming ducks and geese would give me nightmares all the time.
So I went on a quest for the perfect pillow: affordable, fluffy and guaranteed animal friendly.
I spent weeks popping in and out of shops. Most had never heard of the cruel practice before. Desperate for an answer, I turned online. Many retailers' websites don't include details about their feather and down suppliers, so I reached out to some support teams for answers.
Let's analyse one of those customer service replies.
Dear Sabine ,
Thank you for your email.
Our feathers are sourced from Romania and Poland and are hand picked by employee's, as we saw frozen chickens in a supermarket and then contacted the supplier to see where all the feathers were going, as they were going to waste so we form a contract to have the feathers to stop waste.
I hope this information is sufficient enough, if not please do not hesitate to contact [company] Customer Service for further assistance.
A bit ruffled
Sam G seems to have been in a rush: he or she had no time for full stops and concrete details. While it’s reassuring to learn that the feathers are hand-picked by employees (and not by some random stranger or machine), this doesn’t say anything about whether the birds are still alive at that point. And while the reference to food production waste implies the birds may be no longer be aware of their being plucked, it's by no means certain. The countries of origin for the feathers and downs don’t sound very promising: live plucking of birds is forbidden in the European Union, but the ban isn’t strictly enforced everywhere.
According to Sam, the reason why employees (employed by the manufacturer?) hand-pick the feathers can be traced back to an excursion to a supermarket that sold frozen chickens. However, it's usually goose and duck down that's used in pillows and duvets. This doesn't add up.
Sam goes on to explain how they found their suppliers. It all sounds a bit unprofessional, a bit Apprentice-style: as if the team hit a corner shop to buy stuff for their own store. The general idea is great, and I applaud them for eliminating waste. But there's just not enough information about the birds' welfare — for all we know, they could have been kept in tiny cages and force-fed to make foie gras.
The trouble is, Sam works for a company that probably cares about their ethics. Their advertising and production methods suggest this business is very aware of their environmental footprint and working hard to improve it. Yet their customer support reply isn't "sufficient enough" to communicate their ethics and build trust in their feather-and-down supply chain.
How to help your support teams show that your heart's in the right place
There's lots we can do to make sure your support team can confidently write about the ethics of your company:
- Document what good you do, and how you do it
Do good and talk about it! Transparency is getting ever more important for consumers, so don't hide the facts. Thorough documentation will also help you assess and improve your business practices and makes applying for certifications much easier.
- Make it easy to understand and share
Use conversational language and a simple, appealing presentation with lots of white space. Also consider video, audio, infographics and photos to get your point across. If you give each policy its own place on your website, your customers may end up sharing your good news on social media — fuelling positive conversations about your brand and giving you free marketing. The spread of information also makes it less likely that people need to contact you with questions, which cuts your support costs.
- Make the info available through FAQs and a knowledge base for your team
In this day and age, it's easy to dismiss FAQs as a thing of the past. But the advent of chat bots, virtual assistants and voice commands only makes them more important — as they're often used to power those new technologies 'under the hood'. So bring your knowledge articles up to scratch. Your internal knowledge base is even more important, as it's the repository for all the information your support team needs to know. Its contents should be copy-and-paste ready, always up to date, and easy to find.
- Create email, letter and live chat templates for the most critical questions about ethics
Critical consumers tend to get in touch with detailed questions about business ethics. If your support team needs to 'make things up' on the spot, and even ask for approval from senior management or PR, it could take them days to respond. But people rightly expect your teams to have the info at their fingertips, if it's at all important to your business. So prepare your answers and get some templates signed off for your support team. Good templates ensure each advisor responds with the same facts, while giving enough freedom to personalise the reply beyond inserting the customer's name.
- Make sure your support team writes well (including spelling, grammar and punctuation)
Writing is such an important support skill that it's worth hiring for it. Include realistic writing tasks in your interview process or assessment day, and consider setting different expectations for phone advisors and those who'll be writing all day, every day.
Good writing is more than being able to type and use a spell checker. It's also about being able to read closely what the other person is saying, respond to unspoken needs and emotions and get your brand characteristics across with just words. If this sounds hard, that's because it is. Training workshops can help your teams understand your brand spirit and how to express it — and build trust among the people who get in touch.
From Scratch is here to support your company's mission through writing, training and fresh ideas.
All based on linguistics, psychology and research — because customer experience shouldn't depend on personal opinion.