3 Approaches to building customer trust through transparency

In February, KFC in the United Kingdom had a bit of an issue — they ran out of chicken. While the irony is almost comical, fried chicken lovers in Britain were outraged, and the internal stress KFC must have experienced was definitely not a laughing matter. What did KFC do? They owned up to it. They ran ads and built a site that admitted they FCK’d up. They were honest about why and how it happened. While I’m sure the family that was looking to bring home a $20 extra crispy bucket for dinner was disappointed, the relatable messaging and transparency made it easier to forgive.

KFC did the right thing to publicly acknowledge their mistakes, but the best approach would have been full transparency from the onset of the organization, highlighting the wins and the losses throughout the life of the business. Social media has created a new baseline level of transparency that consumers expect from businesses. Because the inner workings of a business can and will become public knowledge at some point, proactive strategic planning and consistent communication are imperative. The key to developing brand loyalty is building trust.

So, how are brands proactively building trust through transparency?

1. Operational transparency

Because platforms like Glassdoor allow for unprecedented access to the inner workings of a company, businesses need to consciously be proactive with transparency around what it’s like to work there, ideally developing a strong employer brand. With a reputation for its top-notch workplace and engaged workforce, the online retailer Zappos created a program called Zappos Insights to publicly share their corporate culture. The program offers tours, trainings, speakerships, camps, and curriculum, with the purpose of helping other businesses develop a culture employees love. The marketing and sales platform Hubspot published their Culture Code, a slide deck that gives the world public access to their financials, board meetings and management meeting decks, strategy topics, and other information related to the company’s vision. The deck was originally created as an internal document but was then brought public in the spirit of transparency. Being transparent about your company culture will not only attract and retain top talent but will also make your business one that consumers respect.

2. Product Transparency

Today, consumers are demanding transparency about the products they purchase. They don’t just want to know the ingredients, they want detailed information about every stage of the product lifecycle – sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, and so forth. The skincare company Beautycounter created their Never List to highlight 1,500 questionable chemicals you will never find in their products, while their competitor Tata Harper has the Open Lab and Traceability programs to provide consumers with specific information on where and when their products were made. While Chicken of Sea probably does not come to mind as a brand that provides transparency, they do have their Trace program to inform customers where that can of tuna (or chicken?) came from. Consumers want to know because transparency is associated with trustworthiness.

3. Cost Transparency

A few years ago, thinkPARALLAX changed the way we present our pricing structure to potential clients. Our pricing is and has always been based on the individual team members working on the project, their hourly rate, insight from past similar projects, and a time estimate for each stage. When presenting pricing to potential clients, we provide complete transparency down to the minute as to what we believe the project will take. This allows us to have an honest conversation about what we believe the job will entail and why the costs are what they are per deliverable. Transparency is the best way to start a relationship — no hidden costs or intentions, just clarity from the beginning. A company that gets this right on the product side is the clothing retailer Everlane, who lists the cost of materials, hardware, labor, transportation, and production for each item, and even publishes photos of the workers who make the clothing. Customers know exactly where their pants came from and the cost it took to produce them. This gives them a trustworthy understanding of the product’s true value.

Keep the mysteries to the game of Clue. Operational, product, and cost transparency are the just the beginning stages of building trust with your customers, and you will find that it alters the communications approach to become more dynamic and personal. As a result, the human, emotional, and authentic brand comes to life with transparency. Isn’t that what we all want to be a part of?