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How to Avoid the Transparency Trap

Woman Looking Through a TransparencyToday’s post is by Victor Prince, one of our thoughtLEADERS instructors.

“Transparency” has become a hot buzzword over the last several years among business leaders and consultants. We have all probably heard something like this from someone with a big job title – “We have got to be more transparent!” Fast forward through a ton of meetings, reams of slide decks and maybe even some significant consulting fees that ensue and what do you have to show for your efforts? If all you can point to is a bunch of shiny new pretty pictures and paragraphs about your business on your website but no meaningful business results, you have probably been the victim of the Transparency Trap.

The Transparency Trap is what happens when you do transparency for transparency’s sake, not for your customers’ stake. You talk about what you want to talk about instead of answering the questions your customers care about.

As the big transparency initiative rolls down through your organization, employees will translate it into a “let me show you how complex and hard it is to do my job so you are impressed.” You end up putting up a cloud of information that is interesting to your staff but irrelevant to your customers. Your website is now stuffed with lots of nice pictures and profiles of your people – that nobody outside your walls ever clicks on.

Best case, you have burned a lot of organizational calories without any benefit. Worst case, you have frustrated your customers who cannot find the answers to the few key pieces of information they need. They just wanted to know what they would get, when they would get it, and how much it would cost them. You couldn’t tell them that, but somehow you had time to make a snazzy video of your production line. If they wanted that, they would have asked for a tour. It makes your organization seem like an out of touch narcissist with too much time on its hands.

The path to the Transparency Trap starts right at the beginning of your big transparency initiative. There is a fork in the road at the start you may not even notice. The path to the left has a sign with the question “What information do we have that we can share?” The path to the right has the question “What do customers really want to know?” Take the left path and enjoy a joyride to the Transparency Trap. Take the right path, and after a bit of effort, you will get Transparency Right.

The key to doing Transparency Right is to focus, focus, focus on sharing the few things your customer cares about and not get distracted by sharing other things you want to talk about. Generally, customers care about knowing a few things and we see examples everyday in our own experience as customers.

What exactly am I going to get? – Customers want to have confidence that what they get will meet their expectations and needs. If your product is a good, then pictures are worth a thousand words. If your product is a service, then a concise description and timeline of the experience they will get is great. Many online retailers build in a user review function so customers can read from other customers experience with that.

When will I get my order? – Think about how much companies have invested in being able to track and share information on delivery times. Amazon.com can message you at every step of the way as your package gets sent to you. Uber.com shows you on a live map where the ride you just ordered is and how long it will take to get to you. When you are deciding whether to catch the subway or take a taxi home, it is very useful to see how it will be until the next train arrives. When you are in an airport, you see the estimated times for flights on numerous monitors throughout the airport. Even more useful, some travel sites show you the track record of timeliness for each flight or train to help us when we are deciding which one to book.

How much will it cost me? – This one is usually pretty black and white for obvious reasons, but some companies go a step further if needed. In some cases, they tell you how your charge will appear on your credit card statement so you are not confused if it would not be obvious. Where the purchase price is only a small part of total lifecycle costs of that product, you might see that information too. Think of the fuel economy for cars or the energy usage on appliances. Where delivery charges or fees are a significant add-on, good companies make that very clear up front and may give you options on how to reduce those costs.

So before you decide to burn a single organizational calorie on putting up nice profiles of your people or other interesting things you would like to share, make sure you are answering these three questions for your customers. In your ongoing dialogue with your customers, you have to earn the right to talk about what’s on your mind by first answering what is on theirs.

Victor PrinceVictor Prince is a seasoned executive with an extensive background in both the public and private sector.  He’s a thoughtLEADERS instructor and teaches communications, problem solving, and strategy.

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