Thursday, November 29, 2012

Inside Out - A Culture of Transparency

Image courtesy of opensourceway
I've blogged about trust several times in the past. In those posts, I attributed things like integrity, consistency, honesty, and predictability to trust and as drivers of trust. I've also blogged about transparency. But I've never written about the two of them together, so here goes.

On Monday, I was the guest host for the weekly #CXO Chat on Twitter. If you've never participated, you really should. The topic this week was The Proactive Customer Experience, and one of the questions we discussed was: "Transparency is the competitive differentiator that drives trust: agree or disagree?"

I am in agreement. Transparency is about telling the truth. It's about not making misleading claims or hiding behind the truth. Openly communicating about how you do business means you're not hiding anything. Of course, all of this openness leads to accountability, as well. Being truthful and open creates trust.

A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity. -Dalai Lama

We talk a lot about an "outside in" approach when it comes to customer experience, but this is an "inside out" approach in a couple of ways. Yea, inside out, as in turning what's happening inside the organization to the outside. Let me explain.

Culture
First, I'm talking about creating a culture of transparency - transparency with employees first. When employees become accustomed to this approach to leadership (leaders must model the behavior they desire) and to doing business, then they can work with customers in the same vein. As I mentioned in a post a couple weeks ago, it's important for employees to have clarity around the company's purpose, the brand promise, and around how you do business, in general. I'll share with you a personal story in my next post about how transparency creates employee engagement, as well.

In the meantime, a culture of transparency is one where people:
  • are honest, truthful, and candid
  • appreciate open and honest communication and information sharing from the top down and from the bottom up
  • acknowledge when there are problems rather than hiding them
  • work together to fix those problems
  • are held accountable
  • are OK with hearing things they may not want to hear (but need to hear)
  • have tools to support and facilitate transparency
  • act with integrity
For a summary of some interesting research on transparency and trust conducted among employees, check out Greater Transparency Is the Key to Building Greater Trust.

Customers
Second, this new culture easily translates and lends itself to a transparent relationship with customers, as well. Companies that share information so that customers can make informed decisions about their products, brands, employment, etc. are more easily trusted. It allows customers to make informed decisions about whether they want to have a relationship with a company.

I'm reminded of a recent ad campaign by S.C. Johnson and their site WhatsInsideSCJohnson. Through this site, they are on a quest to share information about what's inside their products so that you can make better decisions about what to buy. If you look around their corporate website, you see that they adhere to Supply Chain Transparency, as well. And, you see that "Integrity is part of our DNA. It's not a fad or a phrase. It's been our family way since 1886. From the ingredients in our products, to the way we run our factories, we're committed to working every day to do what's right for people, the planet, and generations to come." Can't argue with that. (If you work for S.C. Johnson, please leave a comment below and let me know if these are truly words the culture lives by. Is the culture as transparent as their product ingredients?)

Companies display transparency with customers in many ways, including the ones listed above for the culture. Transparent companies are transparent about what they are doing and how they do it, including:
  • Policies 
  • Pricing
  • Support
  • Governance
  • Social responsibility 
  • Hiring practices
  • Products, product issues
  • Financials
  • etc.
Yes, this is a lofty list. But companies need to start somewhere. Some low-hanging fruit for companies to start with that can immediately impact the customer experience includes transparency about policies, support, products, product issues, culture, and hiring practices.

Transparent companies are an open book. It's not easy getting there. It doesn't happen overnight. But a great example is Zappos. It doesn't get much more "open book" than that.

Some will argue that transparency makes it more difficult to do business, but it should really make it easier. (How can you argue with the Zappos example?) When in doubt, do the right thing. Everyone is watching. When in doubt, remember that you're in business for your customers. The customer is your True North. 

If you question transparency, just take a look at how social media is driving it, for better or worse. Insiders (current and former employees) share the inner workings of their (current or former) employers for the rest of the world to hear about. The cat is out of the bag. The train is on the track and can't be stopped. Get on it, or better yet, get ahead of it.

Do companies need to share all information? No. Let's be smart about this. There are certain things that obviously cannot be shared. But when it comes to your customers, there are things that can and must be shared in order to build trust and to improve the customer experience. Do the right thing.

Truth never damages a cause that is just. -Mahatma Gandhi

Update: As I finished writing this post last night, I received trendwatching.com's email with their 10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2013. Check out #9 (warning: nudity), which also linked to their Flawsome Trend Briefing. Flawsome (i.e., why brands that behave more humanly, including showing their flaws, will be awesome) is definitely worth the read.

Transparency doesn't mean sharing every detail, it means always providing the context for our decisions. -Simon Sinek

2 comments:

  1. This is a great analysis of what 'transparency' means to an organization. People who fear the notion of transparency are worried about risky or sensitive exposure, but that's not the intent. Transparency is direct link between your values and your actions; and that is the foundation of trust.

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    1. Thanks, Stephen, for commenting and for sharing on Twitter. I like how you summarize it.

      And to your point about the fear of transparency, I saw a quote today... something about, it's OK for leaders to be opaque because not everyone needs to know how to build an engine. OK, true, but let's not hide behind that opacity and use it as an excuse to not be transparent about the important stuff.

      Annette :-)

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