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'Giving Back' Can Build Stronger Customer Ties

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Say the words “corporate social responsibility,” or CSR, and what may come to mind are multinational corporations taking action on global issues like climate change or public health. While that is certainly part of what is happening under the larger CSR umbrella today, businesses of all sizes are increasingly embracing good corporate citizenship as part of their standard operating procedure and discovering ways to do good within their own communities and professional networks.

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CSR has gone mainstream. In fact, a 2018 Deloitte study found that 77% of business leaders believe corporate citizenship is important. Companies also understand that a reputation for doing the right thing helps attract and retain both customers and employees, and the research proves it:

  • 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about, according to Cone Communications.
  • More than half of employees surveyed by Cone would not take a job from a company that lacks strong social responsibility values.
  • 69% of U.S. employees and 80% of human resources managers believe it is extremely or very important for companies to act socially responsible, according to an Aflac survey.

The implications for brokers and agents are clear: CSR is an important business consideration for your clients and may factor into their expectations for the advisors they retain.

You may already have a strong CSR strategy. Many brokers and agents are pillars of their communities.

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If you do not have a CSR strategy or platform for your business, the start of this new year is a great time to cultivate one. By establishing your commitment to social responsibility, you can make a positive contribution to society and at the same time reap more opportunities to network and strengthen your customer relationships.

Here are three ways to start.

  1. Find the right fit.

The first step is to determine which social issues or causes you want to champion. A CECP of corporations found that education programs and health and social service initiatives are the most popular choice for corporate giving. Think about which challenges or unmet needs in society you care passionately about. But you should also be realistic: Where are you most comfortable spending your time and resources? If you are an agent or broker who works in a small office, consider asking your employees for suggestions on where to focus. This can be a powerful way to foster trust and enthusiasm.

A key factor in planning a sustainable CSR strategy is to adopt a sustainable cause that connects in some way to the business. For example, as a pioneer in cancer insurance, Aflac has made childhood cancer its primary philanthropic cause for more than 23 years, giving more than $128 million to help children with cancer and their families. Support for this cause has long been embraced by independent sales agents licensed to sell Aflac products, who voluntarily donate more than $500,000 each month from their commission checks.

  1. Partner.

Partnerships are invaluable to CSR success for agents and brokers, who work independently or in a small-business environment. Magnify the impact of your efforts by joining together with others in your network. A few ideas to consider include:

  • Becoming a sponsor or volunteer for a key customer’s CSR project, especially if there is a natural connection to your own platform of causes.
  • Organizing efforts with other small businesses near you to tackle projects requiring strength in numbers, such as a charity walk or food drive.
  • Volunteering to help or chair a committee, if your local chamber of commerce or professional association has adopted a CSR cause.

Each of these efforts can do a world of good and help raise your profile in the community as a responsible businessperson committed to making a difference. Remember to communicate your efforts to your community and clients to garner support and awareness. Sharing news about your CSR initiatives via social media is a given – but also consider emails, letters, press releases, ads, posters, and articles in local magazines or newspapers. Not a communications expert? Look for insurers like Aflac that provide agents with a toolkit to help them communicate CSR efforts.

  1. Step up now.

As we enter 2019, the time is right to build CSR into your business plan for the year. Tailor a program to fit your passions, your schedule and where you want to take your business. Even if you only start small – start somewhere. Creating the foundation for a sustainable CSR platform that connects with the business will help you better engage with customers as a trusted and admired partner.

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Catherine Hernandez-Blades (Photo: Aflac)Catherine Hernandez-Blades is senior vice president, chief brand and communications officer at Aflac. Her responsibilities include advertising, brand strategy, social media and corporate communications, including Aflac’s social responsibility program.