I really don’t like surprises. Granted, I’m anti-surprise to the extreme. I used to drive my mom crazy by ferreting out where she hid the Christmas gifts and then “guessing” what I was opening on Christmas morning. I suspect most people aren’t quite that determined to avoid surprises, but the reality is, especially when it comes to business, we don’t like them. Your customers want transparency, not surprises.
I just finished an excellent book by Patrick Lencioni called Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty. The core message of the book is that the more transparent we can be with our customers the more they learn to trust us over time.
Businesses are often plagued with customers who have doubts, uncertainties and unexpressed concerns. Those emotions breed mistrust and worry, which leads to a lot of questioning, push back and micro managing from your clients.
I’d like to suggest that there’s a different way, as does the book Getting Naked. I think many businesses operate under the misguided notion that clients shouldn’t see you sweat, know if there’s a potential problem or will throw a fit if you explain your pricing to them.
I think that’s a recipe for disaster. Here are some areas (I call it the three Ps of Transparency) where transparency can lead to trust, better customer relationships and increased sales.
Pricing: This is probably one of the biggest areas that needs more transparency. I believe many businesses are uncomfortable talking about their pricing because they’re either not sure how to justify the cost, know they’re not the cheapest game in town or hate the negotiations that come after the initial price is outlined.
We can’t let our money insecurities trickle down to our clients. If you are uncomfortable with your price point, maybe you need to think about how to add more value to what you deliver so you actually believe the client is getting a bargain. If you can’t hold your head up high when you talk about your pricing, then the problem is in what you deliver, not with your customer.
Process: If you’d like your customers to stop calling and asking for updates, proactively give them not only an outline of the entire delivery process but frequent updates. When they know exactly where everything is at, they will stop asking.
The other factor related to process is that for some reason business people believe that they can’t admit they don’t know something. So they fake it. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t that good at faking it and the client gets this vague sense of unease, which leads to more micromanaging on their part.
Saying “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable response as long as it’s followed with an explanation of how you’re going to get the information. We have to get over the idea that our clients expect us to be perfect and all knowing.
Problems: This is the biggie. No matter how buttoned up you are, sometimes there are issues that cause delays, errors and other undesirable results. This is the worry that keeps your client awake at night. And the companion worry for them is that it’s going to be a surprise.
The minute you get an inkling that there might be a problem, tell your customer. Give them as much advance warning as possible and carefully outline the possible solutions or workarounds. If it’s your fault, tell them. Don’t mince words or make excuses. Own up to it, clearly and directly apologize and then tell them how you’re going to fix it.
If you want your customers to trust you and to grow to rely on you, remember that they know you’re human, they know mistakes happen and all they want from you is your honesty. Weave transparency into every interaction and watch the trust grow.