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What does "transparency" really mean?

As we ramp up for the busy season of boutique ownership, now is a great time to plan ahead for high volume, possible delays, and frustrated customers.  One part of the solution for all three of those scenarios... transparent communication.  

But, what does "transparency" really mean?  Well, there is a big difference between being transparent and complaining but dubbing it "transparency" so it's acceptable.  

Being transparent with your customers means proactively sharing information that may impact them.  It's notifying them of potential delays, unexpected hiccups that have temporarily impacted shipping times, products that don't meet your standard of quality, etc.  They key word in transparency is proactive.  When you realize there is an issue, transparency means sharing that with your customers as soon as you identify the issue and determine a solution.  Now, you can still be transparent about why there is an issue when being reactive to a situation, but if you are in a place where you are having to be reactive with your customers, then you've already let the situation get to far.  

Recently I've seen a lot of posts from business owners who are complaining about situations but labeling it as "transparency".  Before you share something with your group that is a problem, make sure you have asked yourself, "what is the purpose of me sharing this?"  If the purpose is so that people will feel bad for you, then it's not transparency.  If the purpose is so that people will excuse your poor behavior, then it's not transparency.  If the purpose is to provide an update because you aren't able to meet a previously set expectation, then that is transparency.  If the purpose is to set a new exepctation, then that is transparency. If the purpose is to make customers aware of an issue and the solution, then that is transparency.

If you have surpassed your turnaround times and you have frustrated customers, there are two ways you can handle it:

Transparency: Hey friends.  I hate that I have to write this.... but I need to make sure you all know exactly what is going on.  We are not going to make our current TAT for a lot of our open orders.  Our volume surpassed what I expected... and much sooner than I expected it too... and we aren't able to keep up.  We are XYZ (list out what you are doing to resolve the issue.... closing your website until you are caught up, hiring additional employees, etc).  

Reactive: We are getting a ton of complaints about our TAT being delayed.  We know it's delayed.  We've said that a lot.  We are really busy.  We are doing the best we can.  

As a customer, which of those would you feel more empathy for?  

If you received a product from your vendor that is of poor quality, there are two ways you can handle it: 

Transparency: The {enter product} were finally delivered yesterday.  I started sorting them to prep them for shipping and was incredibly disappointed in what we received.  There are XYZ (list out the issues in detail).  I am XYZ ( list out what you are doing about rectifying the situation).  I understand this is a huge frustration.  If you are able to be patient while I work through this, I promise to have some type of an update by XYZ (enter deadline date).

Reactive: *sent out the products and are now receiving customer complaints* Well, I shipped out what we received and I don't think they were that bad.  

As a customer, which of those responses would make you feel more comfortable about doing business with?

Being transparent with your customers can feel scary... I think that's often because when we are being transparent it is because of something "bad". But being transparent with your customers can solidfy business relationships, calm uneasiness or fear, and proactively answer a whole lot of questions before they are even asked.

Transparency is definitely a key ingredient in a successful small shop.