AKZONOBEL: BREAKING NEW GROUND IN TERMS OF CUSTOMER CONTACT AND COMMUNICATION
“Eka, or AkzoNobel Pulp and Performance Chemicals as we’re now called, has, in conjunction with Opticom, broken new ground in terms of customer contact and communication,” says company Sustainability Manager Maria Norell very enthusiastically. “A few times during the spring, we invited our customers to attend web-based seminars, or ‘webinars’, that highlighted and focused on the concept of sustainability, which is an extremely important issue for both us and our customers. All growth targets must be centred on achieving long-term sustainability, particularly when it comes to the environment,” explains Norell. “We only have one planet, we must remember that,” she adds in all seriousness.
But, let’s start from the beginning:
“On several occasions over the past years, Eka has asked Opticom to conduct global customer attitude surveys. These surveys are an important tool for quality assurance purposes and to strengthen the company’s market position,” says Lotta Bülow, the company’s Market Communication Manager, who also has responsibility for the customer studies. “When reviewing the set of questions from last year’s survey, we found that there would be considerable value in finding out how our customers viewed various aspects of sustainability, particularly considering how much of a priority issue this is for us, and so we decided to introduce a number of questions centred on this subject.”
“The report Opticom delivered after the customer attitude survey contained a number of very interesting responses, particularly to these questions,” says Norell. “The survey showed that customers take the issue of sustainability very seriously indeed. Most of them have set themselves clear targets in terms of environmental impact, water consumption, energy consumption, etc. The report also stated that customers had a very positive attitude to receiving support from their chemicals supplier in efforts to achieve sustainability targets, and that increased exchange of information in respect of these issues was highly desirable. In addition, customers wanted more information about our ability to innovate and how we could help them improve their cost-effectiveness and competitiveness, using sustainability as a starting point.”
“The idea of compiling these responses and comments in a special presentation was raised by the company’s former Communication Manager Catarina Paulson, who proposed that we should issue it to customers who participated in the survey, particularly to those in the various companies who were responsible for dealing with sustainability issues.”
“At the same time, this would also give us the opportunity to highlight sustainability and demonstrate to our customers just how important the issue is for us – it’s a red thread that runs throughout our business,” underlines Norell. “Fibre, water and energy are the three core areas we focus on. Sustainability and innovation go hand in hand for us. The solutions we develop and offer our customers must be more beneficial to the environment than those they replace. Investments must satisfy special requirements in terms of eco-efficiency and be sustainable, to name but a few examples,” she continues. This is why, according to Norell, Catarina Paulson’s suggestion of giving customers a special presentation on sustainability was great. It would also give an instant response to their requests for an increased exchange of information. The question was how the whole thing was to be implemented.
“It was then that Opticom’s Jessica Tommila came up with a bright idea,” say Norell and Bülow in concert. “Jessica suggested that the presentations be run as online seminars, allowing everyone invited to attend no matter where they were in the world, they simply had to connect to the web. It’s really an ideal solution that uses modern communication technology, although by us it had not been tried before.”
“We thought the idea was compelling, so we gave Opticom green light to bring everything together,” continues Norell. As Tommila had been responsible for all the work involved in conducting the customer survey – implementation, response analysis, compilation of conclusions and report production – and therefore was very familiar with the material, she was the natural choice for putting together the special sustainability presentation.
“In addition to compiling the responses from our own customer survey, Jessica supplemented the presentation with some very interesting comments and responses to questions about sustainability issues that Opticom had received during some recently completed multi-client studies. They regularly contact a large number of converters, printers, publishers and other consumers of paper in Europe, asking questions about a variety of areas such as different writing and printing paper grades, carton board, etc. to get these companies’ views on a number of parameters, in which sustainability issues form a part. These responses and comments were incorporated in our presentation and proved to be particularly valuable,” says Norell.
“Once the material had been compiled and finalised, we decided that I would handle the introduction and conclusion of the session, whilst Jessica, who was intimately familiar with the survey responses, would present the data. This also allowed us to give a neutral pitch in this customer communication,” explains Maria.
Invitations were sent to everyone who had been involved in the customer survey, plus their companies’ sustainability managers. In practical terms, Opticom gave those who accepted the invitation to participate a link to a website along with a login code. Then it was just a matter of connecting to the site at the date and time booked. The webinar was run on three separate occasions and at different times in order to accommodate the various time zones – AkzoNobel Pulp and Performance Chemicals has customers throughout the world, a consideration that had to be taken into account when setting everything up, and it went very smoothly.
Before the webinars went ‘live’, a few test presentations were given with the global sales organisation, which proved to be beneficial from several aspects. On one hand, it helped the sales staff to be clear about what information would be going out to ‘their’ customers, which would be vitally important if they were subsequently contacted by customers asking questions relating to the presentation. In addition, their feedback helped fine tuning the presentation and message.
“We’re very satisfied with the outcome of the webinars,” says Norell. “We had a total of 46 logins from 24 of our most important customers, which was a really good result. During the webinars, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions and enter a chat forum that remained open for 15 minutes after each presentation, which several participants took advantage of. We also received positive feedback from many participants after the webinars. The general consensus was that the information presented was valuable, particularly the data from Opticom’s multi-client studies.”
“But above all we have now, thanks to Opticom’s suggestion, tested a new and exciting way of communicating with our customers,” says Norell. “It’s allowed us to create a relationship and a point of contact with a very important group of individuals within our customers’ organisations, namely those who hold corporate responsibility for sustainability. We’ll now continue to cultivate these contacts, something that will unquestionably be to the benefit of both parties,” says Norell.
“The experiences gained from the first webinar entitled ‘Sustainability – Innovation’ were very good, particularly how we worked with Opticom,” says Norell in conclusion, returning to emphasise just how important the issue of sustainability is to the entire company: “For the past 6 years, Akzo Nobel has been in the top 3 of the Dow Jones sustainability index for chemicals companies. The index measures financial, social and environmental parameters. Our objective is to help the Pulp and Performance Chemicals Business Unit within AkzoNobel to contribute in the best way possible to maintaining and improving the company’s position on this index,” says a highly motivated and committed Sustainability Manager by the name of Maria Norell.