Transparency in business has been “cool” for a while now, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a trend that’s destined to come and go. It’s transitioning from being a brash differentiator to being a must for all.
Nowadays, everyone wants information instantly, and if they don’t get it straight from you, they can likely find it elsewhere.
“Withholding or cleverly reshaping information is no longer a viable option for this new era of consumers who are savvier than any generation before them and for whom skepticism seems to be a default setting,” MegaFood CEO Robert Craven recently wrote in Entrepreneur. “In order to build brand loyalty, companies need to first build trust.”
Being transparent with your customers can be seen as a sign that you respect them enough to share with them. It’s a prerequisite for building a deeper relationship with them, which is, in turn, a prerequisite for respectable customer retention rates. Customers say so themselves. Some 94% of the customers surveyed in this recent study said they were likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. They’re also likely to try more products produced by the same brand.
However, transparency isn’t just about sharing everything happening in your business all the time. There needs to be a thoughtfulness behind it. Still, it can be as simple as a little personal honesty in a difficult or awkward situation, which can have the impact of much more complicated retention strategies. Not sure exactly how your brand can open up in that meaningful way? Here are a few ways to use transparency to gain an advantage in customer retention:
Humanize Your Executive Suite
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to show your audience that your executive suite is more than just a conference room full of strangers in suits. Building a connection between your end users and the team at the very top can bring more of an impact to all of your communications.
For example, a customer may not care as much about a product news email if it’s from a faceless email address than if it’s from the CEO. If said CEO has already developed rapport and customers are invested in them as people, they’re more invested in everything else as well. It’s as easy as getting your company’s executives on social media and consistently creating content. Have them tell their stories, share their insights, and document their day-to-day.
Transparency doesn’t mean they need to share anything huge or groundbreaking to build a relationship (although that never hurts). They can share thoughts based on their journeys in business, like how HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah shares his thoughts and learnings on SaaS at OnStartups.
Or, they can open up their personal lives to their audiences to build a more emotional connection. For example, Kajabi co-founder Kenny Reuter has shared how he and the rest of the company and community have supported his wife’s battle with breast cancer. They even posted a video of the team shaving Kenny’s head.
The blog post with that video has 54 comments, mind you, way more than your usual branded content. This is because the Kajabi executive team’s personalities and personal struggles shine through in their stories, making the community feel like part of the family.
Get Customers Invested in Your Product
Next, you can give users a stake in your product by annointing them as honorary developers. Involve them in the actual development process by asking for feedback, sharing progress and helping them shape the product. This makes them feel like all of their requests, support, and feedback is actually being heard.
For example, Drag Co-founder Nick Timms regularly invites his user community to vote on new features coming to the app via fun emails.
Giving them a sense of investment in the future of your product also makes people more eager to stick around and experience it. If someone knows that a feature they wanted and have given input on is coming, they’re going to be all that more excited to see it launch and to use it. In addition to building a relationship and anticipation for the future, mind you, this tactic creates user engagement right now. Notice how, in Drag’s example, it’s designed to be easy to engage with and vote with a single click.
Another simple way to use transaparency to drive loyalty is to constantly demonstrate the overall value of your product. Make it ridiculously obvious how much customers benefit from having it around, on a regular basis. When you create reminders everywhere, users won’t forget what they gain from continued use. This is frequently done by delivering content or telling stories outside of the product itself, which can work well – especially in terms of a customer retention strategy. But to make the value even more obvious to every customer, you can build transparency into your product itself. This is the approach that content personalization tool BrightInfo has taken by adding “radical transparency” features into the product.
For example, they’ve built automatic A/B testing in as a feature and displayed the results with BrightInfo vs. without right on the user’s dashboard:
It’s an opportunity to be proactive about answering questions around the product’s value, within the product and experience itself. It’s automatically answering, “what does this do for me?” As a result, BrightInfo was able to reduce its churn rate by 89%.
Share How the Sausage Gets Made
As a contrast to showcasing the end result or value of your product, you can also go back to the beginning and share more of the production process. Share how the sausage gets made, if you will. You can give customers a glimpse into the work that goes into the product they’re using. This can give them a new appreciation for it. Think about how the food and restaurant industry turns production into an art form or form of entertainment. Kitchens are designed with windows to look into, and whole stores are set up so that customers can watch the process. For example, rolled ice cream shops often have a focus on presentation and showmanship during its preparation.
This can help customers get in touch with the value of both the product itself as well as you and the rest of the team behind it. And if done well, it also provides a sense of delight, forging an association in people’s minds between your brand and the dopamine injection that your “retail theatre” has given them.
Share Info Freely
Finally, just remember to share information freely. It’s as simple as that.
Whether you’re opening up about raw data or telling customer and team member stories, sharing information from your company that no one else can share helps to position you as a resource. Once again, this increases the value of keeping you around, and the clearer you can make this, the better. One of Backblaze’s approaches to this is by strategically sharing data no one else is trying to both collect and distribute, like their piece on hard drive reliability stats. Another approach is to go less data-driven and more personal. Lots of startups in particular have gotten more transparent about the decisions they’re making for the company, and why.
An excellent example of this is Buffer, which commits to both data-driven and story-driven transparency, documenting it all in one dedicated minisite. This transparency resrouce references all stories and experiments that Buffer has shared, along with numbers like real-time finances, staff salaries and where your money goes as a paying customer.
In order to successfully retain customers long-term, you need to cultivate relationships with them. Sharing more is a simple way to grow closer with customers while gaining their trust. You also have the opportunity to adjust and control your brand’s positioning in a new way when you’re laying it all out for everyone to see.
To embrace these new opportunities coming your way, it’s time to open up the lines of communication.