Open and Honest Communications: A Hallmark of Beloved Companies

Uncensored communications with employees and customers will increase loyalty and the emotional connections you have with them?  But so far…many businesses don’t appear to be hitting the mark when it comes to transparency.  When asked which companies are considered open, the online giants, such as Google (37%) and Amazon (35%), scored most highly, followed by British institutions such as M&S (34%).  The banking sector had the worst scores for openness, but that’s something First Direct is starting to change. They now showcase all consumer opinions via a new site that aggregates live comments from millions of social media sites. The site, at is one of the first times that a bank has made such a move. Their goal was to restore trust in the banking sector as open and transparent, following the credit crunch.

A study conducted by UK bank First Direct revealed that as consumer openness increases, so does customer loyalty. Companies might think that sharing customer feedback – namely negative, is a risk. But to the contrary, the survey revealed that more 75% of the people claim they would be more likely to buy from brands that are open and honest.

Lisa Wood, head of Marketing at First Direct, said: “Our customers are writing about us all over the web and we want to embrace this, so we’re showing customer comments, good and bad… for everyone to see.  We’re also encouraging uncensored feedback on a range of issues and we’re inviting everyone to participate in the conversation.”

The First Direct research showed the number of people contributing to the web has doubled in the past two years:

  • 79 % of people are active online each month, using social media
  • 30+% maintain a profile on social networking sites
  • 18 % contribute to online forums through comments
  • 30% read online forums

The main reason companies hesitate to embrace open communication is that they don’t want to lose control of their brand’s messaging. However, this new age of openness demands an honest and transparent approach, and businesses need to understand this and adapt accordingly.

Transparency Through the Customers’ Own Words

CustomInk, who prints T-shirts, decided to put uncensored customer reviews on their home page. Why? They want their customers to speak for them. All post-purchase online feedback appears word-for-word on the front page of their website. And to show true authenticity, typos are included!

Founder Marc Katz said, “we thought about cleaning customer’s review and making them more like testimonials, be we decided that doesn’t mean anything to the customer. Any company can pick a few great reviews. It’s the fact that we leave these uncensored and show all of them. It’s the one in a 100 few unhappy comments that show that we are real.”

CustomInk’s customers tell other customers they are the brand to trust. The result? Revenue quadrupled from 2004 to 2008. Feedback, and deciding to believe, fuels their growth.

Being Honest on Social Media

Here’s your challenge question from my book, “I Love You More than My Dog: Five Decisions for Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad.”

A real test of daring to bare is entering the social media arena. Most consumers don’t trust the traditional corporate blog. In fact, according to Forrester Research, only 16% of consumers trust corporate blogs. Why? Many believe that bloggers are hand-picked to show only the “sunny side” of the company. That’s why it’s imperative not to censor!

The New York Times published the article “MIT Taking Student Blogs to the Nth Degree,” an overview about student blogging at colleges in America. MIT is willing to publish completely uncensored student blogging on its website:

In the article, MIT admissions officers and deans admit that uncensored blogging is risky; students have written blog posts censoring housing policy, complaining that classes are boring, and painting a negative picture of student life. Yet, many student blogs are overwhelmingly positive about the MIT experience, and this medium has created a community of followers interested in MIT. The payback is huge: a more informed incoming student body, a more informed admissions process, a greater recruiting reach, higher rate of current student satisfaction, and of course knowledge about MIT from the student’s perspective.

Let Your Employees Take the Lead

Sun Microsystems encourages all of its employees to blog, uncensored, without even asking permission.  In an effort to improve its communications with the outside world, Sun also set up a blogging system that lets any employee create a blog on the site. More than just a bold experiment in vanity publishing, Sun sees as a possible model for a new type of grassroots corporate communication, according to Tim Bray, one of the creators of XML.

This openness starts at the top. Follow the blog of Sun Microsystem’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz to see the transparency and willingness to discuss corporate direction, pitfalls, and challenges.

Negative Feedback is Still Feedback

In addition to blogs, a medium like Facebook encourages free opinion sharing and wide exchange of perceptions. Honda learned a tough lesson when they posted a new Facebook page for the Accord Crossover. Within the first few hours, they were inundated with flood of negative comments, ridiculing the vehicles design. Many of the comments were pretty derisive.

Honda had a decision to make. They could delete the comments, take down the Facebook page, or they could keep all of the comments and bare what their customers had shared. As daunting as it may have seemed, Honda understood that in order to be successful with social media, they needed to hear from their customers, AND they recognized that negative feedback presented the opportunity to improve what otherwise couldn’t be improved. Honda decided to keep the comments and used them to better their products and gain a better relationship with their customers.

Graham Jones, an internet psychologist who specializes in the way people use the internet, says, “Now, thanks to the latest internet technology (forums, blogs, social networking platforms and websites) we can share with hundreds of people in seconds and the difference today is the majority of us are doing this.  Almost 80% of us are active online, 30% use it to let people know what they are up to, and it’s become acceptable to share an unprecedented amount of information about our lives, what we do, who we see, and what we buy.  The age of openness is here.”

Beloved companies that are very successful with social media understand that negative input is the means to improvement.

If you don’t dare to bare what your customers share, you are really showing them you don’t care about their input. It sends the message that you aren’t transparent and trustworthy. After all, if you delete negative comments, how will they know you’re being honest about your messages, products, and warranties?

The Top 5 Reasons to Dare to Bare:

  1. Show your customers you’re listening to them.
  2. Prove you care by having an open blogging policy.
  3. Keep the conversation going with customers – the “give and take” of open communication is part of what makes a company beloved.
  4. Increase trust in your company with employees and customers.
  5. Get to know your customers better.

Take a chance. Decide to Believe.

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