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D4 Socially oriented design of products and services

A) Goal of the indicator

This indicator shows how much a company concerns itself with social aspects in its customer sphere. It reflects the way in which a company takes social responsibility in the context of its distribution policy.

The two following questions play a decisive role here:

1.) Primarily for companies in the B2C area: 

Do I offer disadvantaged customer groups easier and suitable access to the information, products and service I provide?

Disadvantaged customer groups in the consumer area are low-income households, people with “intellectual disabilities,” [1] people with physical disabilities, elderly persons, migrants and queer people2, for example. Other disadvantaged customer groups are NGOs, non-profit institutions, civic projects and initiatives, for example. In a wider sense, this holds for all kinds of non-commercial institutions in the areas of education, health care and social services.

2.) For companies in the B2B area:

Do I support structures which are worthy of promotion through my distribution policy? 

In many companies, the marketing practice is to grant key customers conditions and services exceed positive scale effects.3 This gives large entities a heightened competitive advantage over small and medium-sized customers. In the sense of the Economy for the Common Good, the market structures which deserve support are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), regional enterprises and those who are particularly committed to the Common Good.

 

B) Prompt questions

Primarily for B2C

  • How do (potential) customers gain access to information, products and services of my company without encountering barriers (in the 4 dimensions: physical, visual, verbal and cognitive)?
  • Which disadvantaged groups of customers could profit from my products and services? For which of these is my offer highly relevant?
  • Have my products / services been tailored to meet the special requirements of this relevant group of customers?
  • Which measures are taken to enable this relevant group of customers to gain easier access to my products and services?
  • Which kinds of easier access do I offer to low-income households? Does gradation of prices or an adequate alternative offer exist?
  • How high is the proportion of sales, marketing and product management resources which are generally used for the disadvantaged group of customers? Does this proportion exceed the share of sales generated by these customers?

Exclusively for B2B

  • Do market structures worthy of promotion (SMEs) and companies committed to the Common Good receive conditions which at least equal those offered to large companies? (measurability through calculation of sales results: do customers organized in Group structures / large buyers generate business results equal to those generated by customers from the area of SMEs / companies committed to the Common Good)?
  • Do these companies receive services (incl. customer services) which at least equal those provided for large companies in the customer sphere?

C) Evaluation table 

Sub-Indicator

First Steps
    (0-10%)

Advanced

(11-30%)

Experienced

(31-60%)

Exemplary (61-100%)

Facilitation of access to information / products / services for disadvantaged customer groups*

 

Relevance: high

The company has identified the relevant disadvantaged customer groups and access to information is available for the most relevant groups

+ Sales personnel is trained in dealing with / finding solutions for the most relevant customer groups and adequate resources are put at their disposal for customer care

+ Solutions for eliminating the largest barriers for the most relevant customer groups exist and are employed (for example there is gradation of prices or adequate facilitation of access for the group of low-income households)

+ existing P/S are specially adjusted to the demands of the most relevant customer groups

Structures worthy of promotion** are supported by distribution policies

 

Relevance: moderate

Customers subject to structures worthy of promotion receive conditions and services which are relatively equivalent to those offered to large companies / buyers

+ special service measures support these customers

+ special conditions support these customers + other measures support these customers

Every additionally fulfilled criterion leads to assignment to a higher category in the respective sub-indicator.

 *Disadvantaged customer groups: for example low-income households, persons with learning disabilities, persons with physical impairment, the elderly, migrants, queer people as well as NGOs, non-profit institutions, civic projects and initiatives; also non-commercial institutions from the areas of education, health care and social services.

** Stuctures worthy of promotion are: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), regional enterprises and those which are particularly committed to the Common Good

D) Special aspects regarding the evaluation

Application/relevance

The first criterion (access to information, products, services)

 applies for all companies

  •  with direct contact to consumers;
  •  which distribute consumer goods / offer services which can be used by consumers directly but are sold by trade intermediaries and thus establish no direct contact to consumers;
  •  which offer production goods / exclusively B2B services which can also be used by NGOs, non-profit organizations, civic projects and initiatives and non-commercial institutions from the areas of education, health care and social services.

This criterion has a correspondingly low relevance for exclusively B2B sectors.

Application of the second criterion (support of structures worthy of promotion) holds for all B2B areas including:

  • enterprises which sell their P/S to trade intermediaries
  • pre-suppliers of oligopolized markets.

The aspect “equal conditions for customers from structures which are worthy of promotion” means that these customers yield the same proportional sales result that large enterprise do. This should ensure that large customers are not disproportionately promoted.

Sector-specific aspects

Retail trade, which by its very nature serves the entire range of advantaged and disadvantaged consumer groups, plays a special role for this indicator. For retailers the task is to consider which disadvantaged customer groups benefit the most from the goods they supply and how they can facilitate access of such groups to these goods. How can a restaurant be designed in which people with physical impairments can move around comfortably, for example?

For providers of essential services (banks, energy, technical communication solutions) this indicator is of equally high relevance.

Differentiation from other indicators

  • Ethical aspects of customer relations (D1)
  • Dealing with ethically questionable customers (D1)
  • Information and warning notices on use of products (D1)
  • Ethical aspects of product life cycles (E1)
  • Health impact of services provided (E1)
  • Ethical aspects of product genesis (A1 - Suppliers) (C1, C2, C4 - Employees)
  • Involvement in social/civic movements, including donations (E2)

E) Definition + Background

Regarding the criterion access to information, products, services

Generally speaking, this involves:

  • identification of customer groups which find it difficult to gain access to information, products and services or even find out about them; 
  • identification of customer groups who might benefit particularly from what one has to offer;
  • facilitation of access to such products and services on the part of these customer groups.

In practice, there are different ways for going about this: 

Example no. 1: If my products are of particular benefit for people with poor eyesight, it would be important to have a website with a scalable font size and a clearly laid-out text along with information on selling points which are particularly well-suited for visually impaired persons. By modifying my product /  packaging I might be able to achieve even better usability for this customer group. Ideally, all of this would be part of an in-company training measure, and care of this customer group would be part of our everyday tasks, for which appropriate resources would be provided.

Example no. 2: If I sell particularly energy-efficient refrigerators which are attractive for low-income households, I can develop a financing model for such customers which makes it possible for the reduced electricity costs to be used to finance the refrigerator.  

The customer group of low-income households is relevant for most suppliers of consumer products and services and thus it must be taken into consideration to a particular degree. In the sense of Common-Good oriented business, it is not expedient to create cheap offers which throw other aspects of sustainability overboard, however. Instead, intelligent access to good products should be provided.

Concerning the four dimensions of barrier-free access:

Generally speaking, barrier-free access concerns access to information, places of purchase and purchasing processes as well as usability and operability of products / services. Barrier-free access:

  • has a physical dimension:
  • has a visual dimension:
  • has a verbal dimension:
  • has an intellectual dimension:
  • which is relevant for customers with restricted mobility / physical disabilities. Relevant questions: Is my restaurant wheelchair-accessible? Can a person with restricted mobility operate / use my product without limitation (and open up the package)?
  • which is relevant for customers with visual impairment.  Relevant questions: Can a visually impaired person obtain good information on my products? Can he/she operate/use it without limitation?
  • which is relevant for customers with language and hearing impairments. This is also relevant for persons with a migration background. Relevant questions: Do I offer people who communicate through sign language or in writing the possibility to obtain good information on my products and receive good sales service? Does this hold for people who do not speak the local language as well?
  • which is relevant for customers with intellectual disabilities. Relevant question: Is the information on my products prepared in such a way that it can be grasped by people with intellectual disabilities?

As regards the emerging form of “Social Entrepreneurship,”4 some overlapping exists. Products and services which reduce the aforementioned barriers are often anchored in the business models of social entrepreneurs, and as such they fulfil essential partial aspects. Nevertheless, this indicator cannot and should not generally be equated with social entrepreneurship since such business models are often based on social and ecological aspects which lie beyond the customer sphere and/or can/should be applied to all sectors in a general manner.

F) Implementation

  •  Engage in a dialogue with interest groups, helping to sensitize internal points of contact in this way and working together with the interest groups to improve access. Events held for customer groups could be a means of approaching this.
  •  Sensitize internal points of contact to the market (distribution, marketing, PR) for these customers groups

G) Best practices

H) Bibliography/Links/Experts

 

Barrier-free access in general:

 

 

Intellectual dimension of barrier-free access:

 

 

Dialogue events involving the customer groups identified above:

 

 

Notes:

 

1 This is the term preferred by self-representatives of this group.

2 For clarification of the concept “queer” see: http://queer-lexikon.net/queer/queer

3 Positive scale effects are given if terminal costs decline with increasing volumes. To find out more about this go to: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skaleneffekt

4 Social entrepreneurship: enterprises which commit themselves to a positive social and/or ecological change in society through their actions. Profit gain and the social goals they set have equal importance for their entrepreneurial actions. To find out more go to: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Entrepreneurship

 

Editor: Christoph Spahn (spahn@christophspahn.de)