Transparency has been a hot topic, especially in light of recent scandals around Facebook’s use of consumer data and the continued spread of “fake news.” It seems to strike a chord with many and reveals an even darker truth: Americans continue to distrust corporations, even nine years after the recession. Label Insight released a transparency ROI study that revealed that 94% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. And almost three in four consumers (73%) say they would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency in all attributes. While the study specifically focused on food labeling, the findings could be applied to virtually any product or service.
So, why is it important to your business? Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google, Snapchat, Yahoo, Twitter, What’s App, YouTube, LinkedIn, email, and good ‘ole fashion word-of-mouth, consumers are talking about your brand in real-time across a plethora of channels. Whether you choose to interact with those conversations or not, their network (and potential customers for you) are watching. It is how you act, how transparent you are, that instills trust with your core customers. And in this era of hyper-communication it is more important than ever to get it right. Below are three simple ways you can provide greater transparency and ultimately build brand advocates.
1. Be Human
All companies and brands, no matter how big or small, were created by human beings. And not surprisingly, customers are human beings. So, it always surprises me when companies become these generic, transaction-based entities with no relationship to customers, ultimately creating a lack of brand loyalty. If you make a mistake, your customer has no issue moving on to the next competitor. To avoid this common pitfall, here are a few mantras your company should abide by.
Know who you are. It is important to establish your company’s brand strategy.
What is your value proposition?
What is your brand’s archetype?
What are your brand’s personalities, tone and story?
To learn more about establishing a brand strategy, check out Zion & Zion’s Senior VP of Strategy, Peter Juergens’ blog on How to Create a Differentiated Brand with a Killer Value Proposition.
Talk Like a Human
Sounds simple enough, but this is surprisingly difficult. To do this successfully, develop messaging (i.e. television commercials, paid search ads, and everything in between) that is relatable and approachable to your end user. Then, focus your efforts on having those one-on-one conversations with your customers. This could be responding to a review or answering a question on social media. The important piece of this is NOT responding with a generic, pre-scripted message. Respond like you are talking to a friend or colleague. These customers have taken the time and effort to buy your product and/or service and are reaching out to you. Give them the courtesy and respect they deserve by responding with a thoughtful and individualized message.
Be Upfront and Honest
As your company grows and changes, be sure to keep your customers in the loop. That includes price increases, changes in your staff, and the adding/removing of product and/or service offerings. If you choose not to, you risk alienating your customers. They will be left feeling surprised and disappointed. Your customers will come to their own conclusions, or worse, your staff will provide explanations you don’t necessarily align with.
2. Actively Listen
Your customers are the greatest resource you have, and they are relatively easy to engage with. Take advantage of this. The good news is that there are several ways you can go about doing this without breaking the bank.
This can be as easy as doing a quick search on all major social channels (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to see what people are saying about your company. Is the sentiment good or bad? Why? If your company is active on social media, how are your fans/followers engaging with your posts? What type of reviews does your company receive? Again, why? If you don’t know the answer, reach out directly and ask. It’s amazing what people will tell you.
Did you recently implement a product and/or service change? Looking at sales and transaction counts will only tell one side of the story. Utilize your email database and send out a quick email survey to get further details. The survey can be a combination of both quantitative and qualitative, leaving the open-ended questions to get at the real meat of what you’re looking for. I recommend having the last question be something along the lines of ‘May we contact you if we have additional questions?’ – that way you can reach back out if you need further clarification or find an interesting insight you want to elaborate on.
It’s amazing how much people will divulge, all you must do is ask. This is especially easy if you have a brick-and-mortar location where you are face-to-face with your customers. Do you have a customer that used to come in every week like clockwork, but now suddenly comes in only once a month? Ask them why. You may uncover a reoccurring insight across multiple customers that would be beneficial to address. It will not only build stronger customer relationships, but also tackle issues that you may normally sweep under the rug and ignore.
3. Admit Failure
All companies and brands make mistakes, even yours. Instead of pretending like everything will be perfect, no matter what, the bigger question is, are you prepared? How are you going to respond? First off, I’ll refer to my first tip above—respond like a human. Just like a human, you should admit when mistakes are made and communicate how you’ll do better in the future. Secondly, you should have the following two items in place.
I like to think of an escalation strategy as a data table with degrees of severity as rows and when to get key personnel involved as columns. A transaction error with one customer will have less severity versus an E. coli breakout across several restaurants around the country. Having this plan in place will engage the right people at the right time.
Whether you have a staff member in-house or a public relations agency managing this process, it’s important to have a crisis management plan in place. It will help you address the issue right away, and work to rebuild trust with your key customers and stakeholders. For more information on building a successful crisis management plan, check out our article, Crisis Management in a Drama-Filled World, written by our Public Relations Director here at Zion & Zion.
Just like in your personal life, honesty is always the best policy. If your company responds like a human, actively listens, and admits failure, you will be two steps ahead of your competitors. You’ll also have an arsenal of loyal brand advocates.