Using transparency to improve the customer experience

Wikileaks has been in the news and the whole thing about Wikileaks is that it makes transparent stuff that has been kept hidden from us.  In the UK we had the equivalent of the latest Wikileaks disclosure when MPs expenses were published.  And this has got me thinking on the following question: how can organisations use transparency to help their customers and themselves?

If I look at frustrating contact centre experience yesterday (how not to communicate) I find myself thinking that there is real power in the contact centre and the website working together to provide information that is valuable for customers.

For example, the website could display a real-time feed of customer demand and backlog that is hitting the contact centre.  Furthermore the website could make available all the historic demand falling on the contact centre – day by day, hour by hour.  And the website could provide charting / analysis tools to similar to the ones that financial websites provide if you want to take a look at the share price movements that day, that week, that month, that year etc.

If I had had that information I would have been in a better position to work out when to make contact with the call centre – typically when there is the lowest demand on the call centre and the most available capacity to take calls.

It is a fact that most of us tend to keep the promises that we make in public because we wish to maintain, even enhance, our reputation.  Companies can use transparency in the same way.  What if companies published the following on a daily basis:

  • the volume of contacts coming into the contact centre;
  • an analysis of these contacts by category – customers ringing in seeking information, seeking to transact, ringing up because they have a problem and need help to get it resolved, making a complaint, offering ideas on how the company can improve, complimenting the company;
  • how the company is doing in terms of SLA – from a customer and internal perspectives;
  • an analysis of the complaints by cause e.g. product issues, delivery issues, pricing issues, billing issues, service issues etc;
  • what actions the company has taken or is taking to deal with these issues and the impact these actions have made on customers and their experience –  hard statistics not fluffy talk with no commitments; and
  • customer satisfaction scores – versus last month, last year, against SLAs etc.

By being transparent the company would better engage with customers as it takes courage and commitment to make this kind of information available.  And the entire company from the Chairman down would have their reputations and integrity at stake:  that tends to be one of the most powerful motivators to fix the things that are broken.

Clearly, if customers can see that the company is taking things on that matter to customers and making progress – climbing up the hill – they are likely to support the company, even pitch in and help it to improve.

Any company, any executive,  that is truly committed to competing on the basis of creating superior value for their customers the kind of transparency that I have outlined above should occur as a wonderful opportunity to take the lead, to differentiate itself, to build customer engagement and to attract new customers by word of mouth thus cutting down on acquisition costs.  I wonder which company will go first and embrace this kind of transparency?

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

2 thoughts on “Using transparency to improve the customer experience”

  1. Spot on! Transparency is hard to encounter nowadays, in most spheres of life. What WikiLeaks tries to do is not new – 25 years ago it was called ‘glasnost’ and transformed the world: destroyed empires and brought down walls… Unfortunately, Western democracies seem to have shifted to where Communism was before: covering up and keeping things secret from the masses ‘for their own good’…

    In Business – and in our discipline of Customer Strategy, I’ve always advocated maximum transparency form brand communications to operational (and tactical) detail. One issues I’ve often come across is the differentiated treatment of high-value customer segments: many of my clients have argued that ‘we can’t tell people how we calculate their lifetime value’.. The downside of keeping them in the dark is always a dissatisfaction (among others) and suspicion that certain privileges aren’t based on merit and good custom rewards are possibly dispensed to buddies and relatives… An upfront openness that privileges and rewards are earned, I would argue, not only counters such negative perceptions – but in fact motivates others to be better customers and earn the privilege.

    And, as you mention call centres – there was, in fact, a recent (feeble) trend towards transparency: between 2003 and 2008 I witnessed many operations practicing a queue estimate in the IVR (when automatic menus don’t resolve a problem and a customer chooses to speak to a live rep, an announcement is trigered: “We have many calls at present and your waiting time will be approximately 8 minutes” – or whatever the system calculates).

    I liked the practice, but more recently don’t see it at my clients, and haven’t experienced it as a (suffering) consumer myself. Transparency is ‘out of fashion’ again Someone, somewhere has decided that it’s better not to tell customers the truth (in the hope that most will never guess and remain ignorantly happy).

    “Your call will be answered shortly” – when the promise isn’t kept and it’s a long wait, is a far more offensive and brand-damaging message, than “Your call will be answered in 20 minutes or more.” As disheartening as the latter may sound, telling the truth and keeping promises always wins.

    The same applies to politicians and their messages – but politics is none of our business, let’s talk CRM and Customer Experience 😉

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    1. Hello Vladimir, once again I welcome your participation. When it comes to transparency we are in agreement.

      If I look at the issue of treating different customers differently – service treatment – as a result of their value to the company I automatically think of the airlines. When I pay first class fares I expect first class treatment. When I pay economy class fares I do not expect first class treatment, I expect economy class treatment. And if I see someone in first class getting better treatment than me (in economy class say) I do not feel indignant and I do not complain. As far as I know neither do many other people who are airline passengers.

      When it comes to customer treatments I advocate that a company should – as you suggest – offer differentiated treatment AND be clear with customers what they have to do to get that treatment. Customer centricity is a collaborative game in which the customers and the company have to collaborate and create value for each other. I see it as a symbiotic relationship rather like what I have with all the bacteria in my gut. We rely on each other, we work together, we do well by working together.

      One final note. I urge every executive and every company to follow the golden rule: think, be, do in private only what you are willing to have made public. Do not do what the Csuite did in one of my previous employers (long time ago). What was that? Get every employee to sign an ethics agreement and then, simultaneously, do business with a Greek smuggler to get their product into the Russian market illegally. That is the best way to ruin your reputation, your brand.

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