Technology can make you and your business more transparent to customers and partners - and that's a good thing in today's business environment. Thanks to the Internet and the spread of powerful mobile devices, customers are demanding more transparency from vendors. Retailers are under pressure from window shoppers with access to online competitors; middlemen who add little value are struggling because of wide publicity of their outdated or opaque business models; and service providers can find themselves undercut by competition on the other side of the world. If your business depends on secrets, then there's nowhere to hide anymore, says Dave Kerpen, CEO of start-up Likable Local.
"Business people who attempt to keep secrets will eventually be exposed," writes Kerpen in 11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader. "Openness and honesty lead to happier staff and customers and colleagues. More important, transparency makes it a lot easier to sleep at night - unworried about what you said to whom."
Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings, says that as the connected or C Generation moves deeper into the workforce, so its influence will be felt more strongly.
"Today's young workers have grown up with tremendous ethical influences from their peers on social networks and through technology," he says. "They are open about doing business - and often not doing business - with vendors based on their track records on a number of issues, especially privacy and honesty."
Firth says companies today should be using social media as far as possible to get real feedback on their perceptions in the marketplace. "Just as technology makes it easy for customers to publish and share their perceptions of your business, so can it enable you to respond and correct those perceptions if necessary."
He says responding in an open and honest manner to customers and partners shows another facet that Kerpen mentions in his 11 Simple Concepts: authenticity.
"Great leaders are who they say they are, and they have integrity beyond compare," writes Kerpen. "Vulnerability and humility are hallmarks of the authentic leader and create a positive, attractive energy. Customers, employees and media all want to help an authentic person to succeed. There used to be a divide between one’s public self and private self, but the social Internet has blurred that line. Tomorrow's leaders are transparent about who they are online, merging their personal and professional lives together."
Firth says it's easy to see this in practice. "The high-profile business leader who has a personal Twitter account and uses it to communicate directly with customers and to respond to complaints shows a level of transparency and authenticity that we can all appreciate. Business leaders who can use appropriate technology to do that already have an enormous advantage over those who don't."
He adds that many leaders are separating their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles, ensuring that business and pleasure are not mixed. While this strategy can provide a measure of privacy, there is no guarantee. “A US-based company that recently retrenched some of its workforce discovered this to their detriment,” Firth says. “One of the employees used their Twitter account and connections to air the company’s flaws. There was an immediate backlash from their customers and the stock price took a hammering.”
Transparency is especially important in the financial services sector, where social media and constant connectivity have changed customer expectations. “We are used to getting instant updates in all areas of our lives, and companies need to start appreciating the value regular communication can bring. People with pension funds or investments should demand far more regular updates on their fund or investment performance. The days of a monthly or annual investment portfolio update are gone.”