In my years of working with large, multinational corporations, I’ve observed a problem that is both universal and frustrating for all involved: the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. For one of my client companies — Global Widgets, Inc. (GWI) — there is a large and recurring blind spot between the areas of sustainability, content strategy, and UX. Customers are left to navigate a maze of disconnected departments and experiences as they try to find answers to their sustainability questions.
person standing in a maze
Photo by maksym kaharlytskyi via Unsplash.

Now, at GWI, they have a sustainability officer. She’s responsible for ensuring that the company’s sustainability initiatives and supply chain efforts are communicated both internally and externally. She is, however, only one person, and can’t be everywhere at once. Some areas of the company don’t know that she exists at all.

There’s also a content strategy agency. They report into the digital team, which has dotted-line reporting to communications as a whole. However, their strategy is digital-only, pre-sales marketing, with no omnichannel extrapolation into the user’s experience with the products themselves.

And there’s also a team of UX experts. They also report into the digital team, but seem to only have distant connections to other aspects of the user experience, such as the help desk or user documentation.

You can see how things can get very complicated very quickly.

Identifying the blind spots

I’ve been working with GWI for several years, across multiple departments. Each department has seen an increase in sustainability-related inquiries, even if they don’t necessarily identify them as such. It requires someone to take a step back and see the big picture that they’re missing.

  • Investor relations: Investor groups have long been concerned with the cost and availability of natural resources (electricity, fresh water, etc.) and how those costs affect the operational bottom line. In the last year or two, they are also fielding an increasing number of questions about climate resiliency: What happens when the California office has to shut down for wildfires or enforced blackouts? What if flooding knocks out the offices on the east coast? What if another powerful typhoon hits the Japanese facility?
  • Sales and marketing: Customers want to understand how long-term resource consumption can affect the total cost of ownership, similar to the Energy Star rating for appliances.
  • Documentation: How can users operate their widget at optimum energy/resource efficiency. Are there “normal” and “eco-friendly” operating modes? If they can’t find that information, they have to call the help desk — an added cost for the company.
  • Help desk: Several times a day, customers call to ask if products are recyclable, and how to do it.

Solving the problem

Bringing these departments together is a very different way of doing business for GWI. There are a few steps that could be taken to bring clarity to the situation.

  • Expand the role of Sustainability: One person simply can’t be everywhere at once. The role needs to be expanded to become a department, and needs to be included in everything from facilities planning to supply chain insights, and even work hand-in-hand with the digital teams and marketing departments.
  • Content strategy is more than just digital: Yes, there are plenty of digital touchpoints in the product experience. However, the messaging needs to be universal, extending from pre-sales collateral through user documentation and help desk training.
  • Have an omnichannel UX focus: Keep the customer — and their needs — at the center of all decisions. No, sustainability isn’t the only factor that they’re concerned with, but they want to feel like your organization’s message is clear, consistent, and comprehensive from all sources of engagement.

With some cross-functional communication within the organization, customers can have a better user experience while corporations do a better job of advancing their sustainability agendas.

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