The revolution of the web is transforming the way businesses communicate with their customers. An idea that was before frightening or practically infeasible is becoming a common-place goal of businesses that cater to online customers. Transparency between businesses and consumers (or the appearance of it) is popping up all over the web with astounding consequences.
Robert Gorell discusses the need for it and offers some useful tips in his Transparency Imperative. Larry Prusak discusses trust and social capital within the organisation. Biztalk has a take on online transparency. Wired recently published an article describing one under-dog’s triumph over competitors with the aid of a series of unrelentingly honest blog entries. And there are many, many more…
Some of the key points that I have found are:
The attraction of global word-of-mouth marketing marginalises the risks of publicly acknowledging a company’s faults or mistakes. Word-of-mouth marketing is free, and with the web it’s more powerful than ever. By engaging users who are willing to speak out, you encourage them to continue, thus perpetuating the conversation and expanding our reach and relevance.
“Showing that your business is willing to address the customer’s concerns generates positive word-of-mouth.” People who receive direct and honest responses to their complaints, even if the company has been unable to resolve the issue, are more likely to continue using the company’s products than those who don’t. This is straight out of the Customer Service basics manual. But when this exchange is publicly documented, such responsiveness and care is appreciated by many more than the one directly touched customer.
Online conversations about our business are already happening. Not providing a forum where people can discuss your services does not prevent them from doing so- it might instead force them to go to competitor’s site where the audience is biased against us, or a forum where other such shunned voices gather to decry our silence (and implied guilt). The impact of conversations we are not a part of will be far more detrimental to our cause than those that we create, contribute to, and encourage.
“Transparency will give people a context for change, allowing them to accept it more quickly.” By communicating our efforts, passions, and ideas the world is far more likely to support the paradigm shift we see happening. And there’s no better medium for this exchange than the web.
Censorship and transparency are like peanut butter and mayonnaise. “Nothing will send the external blogosphere into a hair-pulling tizzy like negative comments being censored out of corporate self-interest. One of the surest ways to lose credibility is not to take the good with the bad and the ugly.”
Sincerity predicates transparency. “Nobody wants to read a blog that’s essentially just an advertising vehicle. At best, this approach is worthless to the customer; at worst, it’s a disingenuous turn-off that can damage brand affinity.” Any company that attempts to speak with a human voice must try really hard not to sound like a robot.
And I leave with this: transparency is the child of necessity in this age of interconnectivity. How businesses traditionally communicated with consumers was shattered by the web, and to survive we must begin to openly persue the values we’ve built our company on: honesty and integrity.