Sustainability 4.0: Why digital sustainability strategies pay off twice for SME's

Digitisation is changing not only the way products are manufactured and distributed today, but also the way we communicate with customers. The example of sustainability makes this particularly clear: On the one hand, digital technologies help to use resources more efficiently and recycle them. On the other hand, they offer a variety of possibilities for communicating messages authentically and in a way that is appropriate for the target group along the customer journey. Digitalization is thus becoming the driver of a future-oriented sustainability strategy in companies. 
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Companies with sustainability strategies are more successful

The proportion of sustainably produced products in Swiss market has been rising for years. According to the latest WWF rating, Coop and Migros are still pioneers in the field of sustainability, but discounters such as Aldi, Lidl and Denner are catching up rapidly. 

Since 2011, Facit-Group and Serviceplan have also been examining the impact of sustainability on consumers every year in the Sustainability Image Score. 

As early as 2017, 70% of consumers stated that they attach importance to the sustainability of both the products and the companies behind them.

This shows that consumers are consciously aware of the corporate culture and are convinced of the ecological image of a company, especially when it comes to idealistic values such as environmental awareness and responsibility for resources. It is therefore of enormous importance for companies to pursue a long-term and above all, credible sustainability strategy. 


Sustainability through digitalisation of the recycling industry 

A study commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Construction and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) points out that no environmental lead market could benefit as much from digitisation as the recycling industry. At the same time, however, no other sector is as badly positioned in this respect. Increasing efforts are also being made in companies to use digital technologies to identify and solve environmental problems in production and supply chains. 

For it is precisely through digital technologies that a company today knows not only which objects and resources are in use, how they function and can be recycled, but also how the customer uses and benefits from the products. It is therefore this mixture of digitally collected data, customer feedback and digital technologies that makes a switch from waste management to recycling management so attractive for companies. 

The aim is to extend the service life of products, maintain them and establish appropriate product and service offerings. In essence, recycling management is thus about creating multiple benefits by connecting materials and energy in series and distributing the added value locally and regionally. For this to succeed, not only must products, systems and technologies be rethought and efficiently coordinated, but knowledge must also be shared, and cooperation consciously promoted. 

Digitization creates the necessary dynamics to optimize manufacturing, logistics and service processes in terms of a resource-saving circular economy, to establish strategic partnerships through open sources and interfaces and to seamlessly network communication structures along the customer journey. But how do SMEs manage not only to convince their customers of their own sustainability goals in a credible manner, but also to inspire them for their own values in the long term?  

4 steps to a successful customer experience strategy

A study on the subject of customer experience commissioned by the management consultancy Bain & Company interviewed not only companies but also customers. The result: While 80% of CEOs report that their company offers outstanding customer experiences, only 8% of customers agree. 

This means there is still a huge gap between the self-perception of companies and the experiences of their customers. Closing this gap becomes a major challenge, especially when it comes to successfully communicating the ideal value of "sustainability". 

Building on the Customer Journey, the Customer Experience ensures that customer communication is transformed into a customer interaction that can be experienced individually, which is ultimately also capable of formulating messages in such a way that customers trust the information.

The customer experience strategy must therefore focus consistently on the customer in order to recognize their needs, identify new trends and thus ensure corporate growth. The following steps lead to an action plan that forms the basis of a successful customer experience strategy:

    

Step 1: Analysis Initial situation

Which Touchpoints are currently available to customers? Are they being used? And if so, how much? Are there also touchpoints that are not yet provided but are of great relevance to the target groups? 

Step 2: Meeting customer expectations

What do customers expect at the various touchpoints? What does customer satisfaction depend on? How can the contents of the touchpoints be meaningfully linked with one another in order to offer customers further added value?

Step 3: Creating emotional bonds

Experiences live on emotions and positive emotions create a strong bond to the brand. Which experiences are perceived as very positive by customers? Which negative? And how can negative perceptions be transformed into positive experiences?

Step 4: Develop a customer experience strategy

The results from steps 1 to 3 show where potential is not yet fully exploited and where customer wishes are not yet satisfactorily fulfilled. An action plan takes up the necessary measures and defines their objectives. 


Implementation of customer experience strategy through partnerships:

Many SMEs lack experience in digital topics such as cloud, AI or digital marketing - especially in their technological development, implementation and scaling. For this reason, according to the Lünendonk Market Segment Study 2019, many companies are now consciously relying on the expertise of IT service providers, from whom they primarily (94%) expect innovative strength, industry and professional competence (90%) and creative solution and design competence (69%). 

For the implementation of a self-contained and seamless experience customer experience strategy, the networking of these various individual disciplines into an integrated consulting, development and implementation approach therefore represents a significant success factor. For this reason, many companies rely on partners who are able to provide all services relevant to an outstanding customer journey in-house, from strategy and management consulting, IT consulting and system integration to creative and design consulting. 


Conclusion

From the customers' point of view, sustainability is no longer an option, but a must. A credible sustainability strategy therefore encompasses all corporate divisions and places new demands on production, sales and logistics as well as on customer communication. 

Digital technologies are not only driving the transformation to a closed-loop economy, but also open up a wide range of opportunities for SMEs to optimally tailor the customer experience along the customer journey to the individual needs of the customer. 

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