We did it. We made it to 2021! It wasn’t easy- surviving 2020 as a small business owner took grit, hard work and innovation.
But it also took transparency.
In a time where there was so much uncertainty and confusion, businesses had to step up and communicate with their customers, staff and partners. This meant outlining COVID-19 safety precautions to keep everyone safe. It meant communicating that operating hours or workflows had changed and alerting people if there were delays in products, problems with supply or staffing issues. These difficult discussions were had by businesses of all sizes and industries last year.
The road to becoming and maintaining a transparent company, one that consumers trust, may seem a little daunting to business owners that are used to the old-fashioned “need to know basis” mentality, but it is well-worth traveling.
To help ease your way, here are a few points to keep in mind as you build your company’s ongoing transparency policies and develop stronger relationships with your customers:
Defining Transparency in Business Today
It is difficult to hit a target that you can’t see, so begin by defining transparency as clearly as possible. Forbes defines transparency as a “lack of hidden agendas or conditions, accompanied by the availability of full information required for collaboration, cooperation, and collective decision making.” It boils down to what could be termed as strategic transparency: the release of honest information when it is necessary.
For today’s consumers, this falls far short of what is expected. A better definition would be “open and honest communications in a timely manner, always without omissions, misrepresentations, or hidden agendas.” In other words, what you see today is what you get today, plain and simple, without terms and conditions.
This an area where small business owners truly have an edge on big corporations. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for the CEO of an international conglomerate to create a personal connection with each and every client.
As a small business owner, you have the opportunity to make your clients feel a part of your family. By sharing triumphs and trials you will not only help build trust but will greatly improve customer loyalty. It also offers the chance to share your involvement in the community without sounding like you’re tooting your own horn. Toot toot!
In what has become a classic study of transparency, Harvard Business School researchers found that when customers and cooks in a restaurant could see each other, customer satisfaction increased by 17.3%, and service was 13.2% faster. True, it is not practical for all business types to have their customers looking over their shoulders. Still, being open and honest about your operational procedures will greatly improve client trust and inclusiveness. If your accounting firm uses bookkeepers, introduce clients to the people who will actually be handling their receipts and entries.
Just as important, if not more important, as your public transparency is the internal transparency of your company. Your published pay scale showing your equity of treatment and the reasoning behind your policies and procedures are areas that should be common knowledge within your business. This form of transparency can help you avoid personnel issues, foster an atmosphere of trust and help build a feeling of ownership among your staff.
More importantly, when your entire staff feels a part of a common culture and understands how their role coincides and meshes with the overall goals of the company, they feel empowered and have a sense of belonging. Just as a family will pull together to help their own, they will be more likely to support weaker members or departments and more willing to contribute to the overall health of the enterprise as a whole.
A common expression that has been fashionable for some time is “keep it real.” That is the heart and soul of transparency as it should be practiced today. Don’t be afraid to share the bad with the good. Owning your mistakes is a great way to build trust and maybe get some free advice.
Here at Better Business Bureau, we are wishing you the best and all the success in this new year. Keep up the hard work and, as always, we’re here to help at trust-bbb.org.