Somebody should punch some companies in the face! With a guitar!
Why? Because they pretend that they don’t do shitty stuff and keep on smiling. Punch them again, but now with the Internet, on social media, on blogs on YouTube, wherever you want. Until they’ll understand that transparency is what we really need!
Let me tell you a short story about how I lost all of my confidence in buying stuff online and what made me get it back. It might have happened to you too.
Three years ago, I made my first online purchase. I know, pretty late you might be thinking, but you know what?! I never wanted to buy anything online in the first place. Why? Because I didn’t trust any of the online shops. I kept thinking that those new type of shops are not reliable and they could trick me. And they did.
The story is pretty simple: I bought a camera, after a few months it broke and I needed to contact the customer care department for further information about my warranty. I e-mailed them. I called… no fucking answer!! For several weeks in a row. I was so angry that I started threatening them by e-mail with all sorts of things that crossed my imagination. At some point I got bored and I stopped because I had enough with this shit.
But my problem wasn’t solved: I still needed a damn camera! So I armed myself with tons of patience and restarted searching for another camera online. It took me a month to find a shop that I could trust again, but at the end, I was finally happy. They provided me all the information I needed, while being friendly and opened to share details about costs, warranties, and everything. I bought the camera and I lived happily ever after taking random pictures of whatever.
Why have I told you this story of mine?
Because like me, there are millions of people out there that might have experienced something similar. They might have been tricked by online shops or companies, or maybe not, but they still find it hard to trust a company with whom they don’t interact offline.
The only key in building any kind of relationship with your potential customers is opening up in front of them. You can offer the best discounts ever, you can have plenty of contests with free stuff, you can basically do anything, but if your transparency level is low, your sales will not grow overnight as you expected. You may not sell at all, so you don’t want that to happen. You know why? Because we are willing to pay even more for the same product, if we feel that the vendor is reliable.
I have thought long and hard about this subject and I came up with four directions in which a company can develop and increase its transparency level so that people will start trusting it. Any company can pick one of these directions, or the whole four, it only depends on what do the customers want to know and keep asking, or what the company has and wants to share.
So, getting to the serious stuff, here are the four directions:
1. Transparency in the Manufacturing Process
Skipping the step of providing transparency about the manufacturing process, especially when the product is perishable or made of uncommon materials, is going to be a risky choice that sooner or later will backfire. And my guess is that is going to be sooner because people are curious to know what they’re eating, what they’re dressing with, what’s in the pillow they’re sleeping on, and other relevant details that will make them comfortable with buying your product. You don’t believe me? Would you eat a brown dish without knowing what’s in it? If you would, good for you. You can have my dish too.
Talking about food, let’s take as an example McDonald’s. We will not debate here if the products are healthy or not, if it’s good for you or not. I’m not a nutritionist, so I can’t provide you an expert’s opinion, even though the common sense indicates a certain direction regarding McDonald’s fast food.
For decades in a row, there were literally millions of questions raised on the manufacturing process and the products that McDonald’s provided. People were asking if the oil used is safe for their health, if the chicken was really chicken, if the fried chips were made out of potatoes, and so on. Not to mention the nowadays hysteria with GMO’s (I think we can agree that it’s justified hysteria).
McDonald’s answers were hesitant and a clear company’s point of view was nowhere to be found. Their strategy went fine until there was no place to hide in the Internet era. People posted pictures with McDonald’s food on social media, they started discussion forums and YouTube channels against the corporation, and tons of information about how disgusting McDonald’s is were found upon a click. If you’ve been online in the past 10 years, you know what I’m talking about.
Things got out of hand and they had to do something. So what have they done? They started a campaign that was indented to make the manufacturing process more transparent. In 2014! At more than 70 years from its foundation. Pretty late, I guess.
And my guess is not far from the truth. Here are some videos trying to explain the whole manufacturing process for different types of products:
You can find all of them at this link.
2. Transparency Relating Costs And Warranty
I already told you my story with the camera. There are millions of people out there that had a similar experience with online shops and they are even willing to pay more for the same product if they trust the provider.
If you want all these skeptical guys to buy from you, then you need to tell them all the details, even the smallest ones. Don’t skip any detail considering that it’s not relevant, because that small ones could be the difference in people buying from you or from another shop placed right beneath you in the search engine.
Place cost calculators with no hidden VAT or transportation costs or whatever you malicious mind can think of hiding! That shows you are transparent and reliable. I really don’t feel like I need to explain why. Just take it as it is.
Besides costs calculators, the warranty contract is even more important for some products like the electronics. Making the entire warranty contract available for the general public, before they buy, is a proof of transparency that can’t be matched by other warranty promises.
The rule comes like this: the more details you will give, the more trustworthy you will become.
3. Be Transparent With And About Your Employees
If there is somebody that really wants and needs transparency from a company, then the employees are definitely the first ones. Knowing where the company is at the moment and where is heading to is very relevant for achieving a greater level of involvement
Understanding the mechanism under which the company functions is easy for a small company with let’s say…5 to 10 people. But what do you do when there are 100, 1000, or other numbers with lots of zeros? You should make available for everyone an organization’s chart and post it online. Among with specifying names and the position occupied in a certain department, there should also be included relevant information about each department and the main responsibilities covered by the specialists.
I can see you raising your eyebrows. Why on earth am I going to post that information online? You don’t have to, it’s not mandatory, but the if you think an organizational chart is a bold thing to do, here is what Buffer did: they gathered all the information that they wanted to provide for the general public and came up with this.
All the information regarding employee’s salaries, their e-mails and the stuff they are working on were published on Buffer’s blog. As far as I know, this is one of the biggest transparency campaigns ever. Can you imagine the huge amount of traffic that this action created? One year later I’m posting a link to their blog… so the traffic keeps on going. I don’t even want to think about the number of resumes that they received from all over the world.
It’s not necessary to take Buffer’s example and post everything. But hey! Posting some names, some pictures, some e-mails… aren’t going to do any harm. Employees got to know each other and customers can also get to see your pretty face.
Even though you are an online company, people want to interact with people, not with computer screens.
4. Transparency In The Relationship With The Customers
Here comes the hard part. All the transparency actions have the ultimate goal of bounding relationships with the customers and also suggesting a trust climate for potential customers. But what happens when the company is too ignorant to solve a problem that a customer encountered and starts believing that one customer out of millions doesn’t matter? “United Breaks Guitars” happens.
Ever heard of the American singer David Carroll? I haven’t… until this song:
What happened? David traveled with the United Airlines back in 2009 and he carried with him his guitar. The guitar went in the luggage center and somehow it got broken. He reported immediately what happened to his guitar, but nobody cared. He called and called again, and reported the situation and so on. Nobody gave a fuck for months in a row! So this guy got mad one day, and instead of sending threatening e-mails like I did when my camera broke, he just decided that he is going to make a song about it. And he didn’t stop at only one… he made three. Hearing about his story, lots of people stepped in to help him register a video for his songs and share the news to the world. In a few days, his songs went on the national television in New York Times and the story reached all the corners of the USA. It soon reached 10 million views on YouTube. Good job, Dave!
Can you imagine how easy it would have been for United Airlines to just admit it’s fault and repair or replace that man’s guitar before the story went completely viral? I keep on telling you people, we live in the Internet era, shit is not going to disappear just pretending it didn’t happened.
What this has to do with transparency? Well, transparency also means you should ask for feedback, either positive or negative one, and actually take it into consideration. This was not only a feedback, it was an ignored complain. Check fast your customer care department and see if they are handling things as they should. Every customer matters!
By the way, if you want to hear the whole story narrated by Dave Carroll, here you go.
Why Are Some Businesses Afraid To Share Information Online?
In old school business types, transparency was considered an isolated era somewhere in the back corner of the “values” list. Very few specific actions were taken in order to increase the company’s transparency level. My only explanation to this is that people were flooded with advertising and marketing, and all these costs ended up in the product’s price, so being transparent about prices and how a company got to minimize the production’s costs was not the smartest thing to do. So why were businesses less transparent? Because they had more things to hide and they could hide them easily.
What changed? Customers are starting to change and businesses must change too. All sorts of information are available online and people are becoming more aware than ever about what they’re buying, about the costs of those products or services, about not being tricked in buying the brand, and about everything that didn’t made that much of a difference 20 years ago. Comparisons between companies are a lot easier to be made and trust can only be built through transparency. In the speed era, hiding the dirt and pretending that it is not there, will only make it end up in social media pictures or YouTube videos. There is no place to hide anymore!
Big Or Small, You Still Got To Do It!
Your company may not be as big as McDonald’s, Buffer or United Airlines, but it doesn’t matter! The principles of transparency work the same. I gave you four transparency directions, but they are not written in stone. Keep up with your customers and provide them the information that they want. Be the one that surprises them with openness and a human face, then you shall see long term results in the relationship with your customers. You will be surprised too.