When it comes to maintaining a successful retail business in 2019, all roads lead back to transparency. We’ve entered a phase of consumer behavior in which honesty is valued even above traditionally prioritized factors like price and brand recognition. As a grocer, this means that you must change your business practices in order to fit this new standard. Without customer transparency, you may not be able to garner customer loyalty – and that could mean the end for your business.
What is customer transparency?
Customer transparency is a business practice that values corporate honesty and encourages companies to communicate positive and negative information with their customers. Put plainly, it is a term that encompasses a value system meant to put the customer first, to present them with all of the necessary information so that they can make an educated purchase.
Customer transparency has become a hot topic in every area of retail: from home goods to grocery. Consumers want to know what they’re purchasing, who made the product, how the product was made, why a product is priced the way that it is, and why they should purchase a product from a specific company. All of these questions, if answered, add up to customer transparency within a business.
Why transparency is important to customers and employees
The desire for transparency isn’t coming out of nowhere. American society is on the cusp of a truth revolution, convinced that mainstream media has bias, jaded by political spin, and fraught with distrust toward large corporations. Consumers are determined to ensure that the decisions they are making with their wallets reflect their belief systems. The only way to link your brand values to your customers’ is to be completely transparent about your business.
Transparency is more critical than you think. More than 73 percent of consumers consider transparency more important than price, and nearly 40 percent say they would switch from their preferred brand to one that offered more transparency, according to Label Insight.
In grocery specifically, “86% of shoppers agreed that they would feel a higher sense of trust for food manufacturers and retailers who provided access to complete information on ingredients, including ‘easy to understand’ ingredient definitions”, according to FMI and Label Insight.
Interestingly, employees are just as adamant about working in a transparent workplace as customers are about shopping from one. Management transparency is the top factor when determining employee happiness, according to a TINYpulse study. Studies have also found that workplace leaders who practice transparency and positivity are seen as more trustworthy and more effective.
No matter the industry, it’s obvious that consumers and employees are moving toward an “honesty is the best policy” frame of mind, and it’s your job as a grocer to cater to their needs in order to win their loyalty and engagement.
5 ways to be more transparent with customers and employees
Customer transparency ideas
Create a clear feedback loop
Customers crave transparency in customer service interactions and public-facing announcements. No matter if your company is in the right or wrong in a situation, it’s best to be completely honest with your customers about what has transpired. Proactively share changes in your business with your customers in order to eliminate the risk of a viral negative response to one of your business practices.
In addition to upfront honesty, it’s integral that you create a feedback loop for your customers. Having a form that they can fill out on your website is not enough. Today, you need to listen to and engage with your customers publicly if they have a dispute or a compliment, whether it’s through a forum or a public event. When you give others the chance to chime in you’re also giving yourself a platform from which to convey a message to a wide audience, not to mention a simple way to conduct customer research!
2. Use technology to provide detailed information about your products and services
Your customers ask themselves a lot of questions before deciding whether or not to purchase your products and services. I mentioned a few above, but even that list doesn’t cover every aspect of a customer’s internal inquiry.
The best way that you can answer your customers’ questions (short of training your employees to know every detail about every item in your store) is to stock products that implement new technology that can give customers deep insights into their production and nutrition. One example of this is SmartLabel, “a digital platform that includes web sites, apps, QR codes and other elements to make product research easier for consumers. Blockchain has even become a part of the food industry at large, making a product’s journey from manufacturer to customer crystal clear. That kind of easy-access transparency will be seen as a benefit to many consumption-conscious customers.
3. Share your company values
Your company’s values are just as important as your business practices to your customers (ideally, they should be operating in concert). While you and your employees may know these values like the back of your hands, do your customers understand what your company is about? Are they aware of the values that you’ve committed to, the beliefs that you stand for?
Transparency can be a helpful tool here. By letting your customers in on your company’s ideals, you’re asking them to hold you and your employees accountable. You’ve given them the key to your goals, and letting them judge you on your performance. It’s a scary position to be in, but one that lets you show your customers that you’re making an effort, and that you’re devoted to carrying out your values in every aspect of your company.
One example of this value-based transparency is Kohl’s initiative, #LifeatKohls. This social media campaign asks employees to share their day-to-day lives within the Kohl’s organization, showcasing just how the company’s values are playing out in their employee’s actions, both in their stores and behind the scenes.
Employee transparency ideas
Institute consistent top-down communication
Retail employees can sometimes feel left in the dust, particularly if they are one of thousands of employees working in retail locations across the country. It can be difficult for them to feel connected to the company that they’re working for, resulting in lack of motivation and built-up resentment.
To solve for this issue we go back to our topic of transparency. The best way to make an employee feel like they are a part of something bigger within your organization is to give them the same information that is being given to their manager and to higher-ups within your corporate office. Implement frequent all-hands meetings where your company’s president can be present (either in-person or through video call) and answer employee questions while relaying important company news and announcements to your team members.
2. Work with employees to create straightforward career paths
Retail has a bad reputation for being a rotating door industry, where high turnover rates and seasonal appointments are the norm. To engage your employees on a deeper level, and help them develop a long term commitment to your company, transparency is once again the key.
Sit down with employees at every level and have frank conversations about their projected career paths within the company. Get a sense of their hopes for their career, what they’re interested in, and look for ways to help them pursue those passions within your company. Having a distinct career path, and set goals along the way that can help them achieve each professional level, give employees purpose in their everyday tasks. By being transparent about what your company can offer as a future career, you’re not only motivating employees but training the potential managers and C-level executives of the future.
The simplest way to keep your business on the path to success is to shift your focus toward implementing more transparent practices. These initiatives cost to little to no money, but will have a major impact on your customers’ loyalty and your employees’ engagement. Use the ideas mentioned above to get a headstart on your competitors this year, and make a name for yourself in the industry as the transparent grocer.