A Person Looking Out Over a City Skyline From a Window.

It’s Crystal Clear: Transparency Is Essential in a Knowledge-Seeking World

Back in the “olden days,” when you wanted to buy a new TV, you would go to the store, find a couple of sets with the features you want, compare the prices and choose one. Maybe you would look in a second store to compare options if you were going there anyway.

Well, things have changed. Customers can now compare multiple products from multiple brands, check which retailer has the best deal and which product gets the best review. Handy stuff for consumers. But… customers also have the ability to dig deeper into the brand itself.

For some people, choosing a product is not just about features and price. Depending on their own values, they may ask (among other things) where was it made, was it packaged sustainably, was it ethically produced, how does the brand respond to reviews and what was the company’s social media response to a recent world event? And that’s why transparency is so important for businesses.

A Thorough Background Check

Customers want access to brand information, and if it’s not freely available, it can affect their buying decisions — or worse, end up as negative publicity for the business (“They’re hiding something”). Gone are the days where brands offered a small statement about their values, manufacturing processes or product origins in the “About” section of their website (if they said anything at all). Customers want to learn about who a company really is, and they want a detailed description, not just a one-liner.

A blog (or another form of content) is the perfect place to provide some of the details customers want to know. You could create an infographic about your manufacturing or supply chain processes, discuss your sustainability efforts or highlight valued employees in a series of videos. Content like this can show potential customers who you are and how your products are made — which may just be what you need to make that conversion.

But it’s not easy to start a blog, and maintaining one is even…not…easier. If you doubt your ability to regularly update a blog or keep it filled with quality content, we can help.

Respond to Reviews (Honestly)

Customers also want an open and responsive line of communication with a brand. Creating a place on your website for customers to provide feedback or to ask questions shows customers you care about their opinions and want to hear from them. It also gives you the opportunity to respond to their comments, which may not be possible on other forums. But make sure you do respond — and that it’s timely, respectful and empathetic. Show your customers you’re listening and you care.

However, you need to be honest in your response. It’s one thing to say, “We’re always looking to improve our process based on customer feedback.” But do you actually improve your processes? Because transparency is about being truthful, too. If you have no intention of “improving your processes,” you need to change your standard response. If you do make a change, show your customers that you listened, and tell them that the change was made because of them.

Social Media Sleuths

Ahh, social media. A wonderful marketing tool, but also home to good comments, bad reviews and viral posts that can turn ugly very quickly. And it’s a place where, if you’re not completely honest, it’s probably going to come back to bite you. If not now, maybe five years from now, because everything on the internet seems to last forever. Make sure you’re posting the whole truth and nothing but the truth, because it’s likely that someone, somewhere will find out if you’re not.

We’ve posted before about content being proactive and not reactive on social media. The same advice applies to transparency. If you’re aware of an issue, let your customers know as soon as possible. They’re going to find out anyway, and this way you can control the message. Customers will likely appreciate that you’re being upfront and will respect your honesty and openness. You may lose some customers but being transparent may keep more than if they had found out from another source.

Look Within, Too

Transparency is also important within your business. Being open and honest with employees builds trust. And if your employees trust you, they’re more likely to stick around. The pandemic brought about the “great resignation,” making employee retention a hot issue for businesses. If leaders are upfront with their employees about how the company is performing, the challenges they’re facing and the plans for the future, employees are going to feel more comfortable in their position and are less likely to be scrolling through job postings during their break.

Woodruff is employee owned (we’re an ESOP), and we practice an open-book policy with our finances. If an employee wants to look through the books and see how the business is doing, our CEO is happy to do this. Shelley reminds staff of this opportunity every time she gives a quarterly update at our staff meetings. Transparency with our finances empowers us all to continue growing the agency and reach our financial goals — because we can see how close we are to meeting them.

A survey of direct reports found that employees were more likely to recommend their organization as a good place to work if their leader was trustworthy versus if they were a good communicator. The author of the article suggested that leaders will benefit more from spending time earning the trust of employees than perfecting the content in their well-delivered presentation.

Keep Some Things a Mystery

A transparent business can help you engage with customers better and develop trust and loyalty that can last through any future bumps in the road. Of course, you also don’t want to be too transparent. Your competitors are also looking at everything you do and everything you post. So keep the secrets to your success in-house.

Need help being more transparent? Clearly, you should give us a call.