July 14, 2024

You’re the Boss: How Do You Engage Your Customers?

A TerraCycle collection brigade.Courtesy of TerraCycle.A TerraCycle collection team.
Sustainable Profits

At TerraCycle, consumers can interact with our business in two crucial ways. First, they can send us garbage (postage paid), and for each piece of waste they collect, we typically give 2 cents to the charity or school of their choice. Today, more than 21 million people in the United States are actively involved in our collection programs, and there’s another 2 million participating outside of the United States. The second way to interact with TerraCycle is for consumers to buy the products that are made from the waste we’ve collected. These products are typically available at major big-box stores, including Wal-Mart and Target.

Encouraging consumers to get involved in the latter function, buying TerraCycle products made from waste, is relatively straight forward: produce a product that is better, greener and cheaper that a similar conventional product. While achieving these goals can be difficult for green products (as their ingredients and/or manufacturing processes typically cost more), it’s less difficult for TerraCycle because we start with waste as the raw material. That keeps our costs down and makes the proposition to the consumer something of a no-brainer. If the customer already intends to buy a cooler, we just have to convince them to buy the TerraCycle cooler.

On the flip side, encouraging consumers to maximize their waste collections with TerraCycle is a very different question. There are no comparables out there, except perhaps recycling. And the customer’s intention is far from established — until we offered the opportunity, the customer wasn’t intending to recycle his or her pens. Since there are no other companies in the world that collect and recycle these waste streams, a consumer first needs to know that the program exists, then has to care enough to participate, and then has to sign up and start collecting.

It’s not easy, but we have been relatively successful getting people to sign up, mostly through aggressive public relations (we generate 100 to 250 articles a week about our programs globally), our own media (TV show, books, blogs, magazine, etc.), and by working with our brand partners to get the word out (the TerraCycle logo is on more than 15 billion packages a year and in sponsor-paid television commercials about our brigade programs).

The question then becomes, how do we encourage participation in our programs and increase collection rates from, say, 2.5 percent (the percentage of America’s juice pouches that we currently collect)? We are in the middle of introducing a number of initiatives. I would love to hear what you would encourage or what you have done in your business to solve a similar challenge. Here they are:

Pro-active customer service. TerraCycle, like many companies, has a customer service department that focuses on solving any challenge that our consumers have while running our programs. Typically customer service departments are entirely reactive. We recently decided to move to a more proactive approach that will involve contacting collectors to see if we can help them with anything.

Support material. We have always provided support material, like posters, for our collectors. We recently decided that we will start offering more rewards for passing certain milestones, like 1,000 pieces of waste collected.

Contests and incentives. About five months ago we began offering contests and incentives to drive collection.  These range from incentives to encourage the first shipment (the theory being that that’s sort of an ice breaker) to collection contests that pin one location against another (like which school in Wisconsin will collect the most waste this quarter).

Brigade Leaders: We have begun to identify the people who are the top collectors in our system, and we are asking them to help those who don’t do as well. In exchange, the leaders will get credit for 20 percent of the increase that the low collectors experience. The goal is to build up a network of hundreds of brigade leaders that become local ambassadors of the programs.

To some extent, all of these tactics work, but my biggest challenge is to measure which ones work best and then determine our commitment to each category. It’s very important for us to spend wisely — contests will cost us more than $50,000 this year, outreach another $50,000, and we have already spent more than $75,000 on resource development.

In the end I don’t know if we are doing enough. I don’t know if we are doing the right things. And most importantly, we have a very difficult time measuring the efficacy of our various activities.

Tom Szaky is the chief executive of TerraCycle, which is based in Trenton.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=ebc45fe2537d8a7e32cad50023715143

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