One of the benefits of doing business online is that you have a platform from which you can communicate openly with the world at large. You can engage customers, relay information about your industry, and broadcast details about your business.
You can also practice transparency.
Merriam-Webster defines transparent as follows:
a: free from pretense or deceit; frank b: easily detected or seen through : obvious c: readily understood d: characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.
Let’s examine these definitions and see how they can be applied to doing business online.
Free from Pretense or Deceit
Nothing makes customers more uncomfortable than feeling like they’re being deceived. Empty promises (you too could be filthy rich in less than 90 days!) and impossible guarantees (your website ranked #1 on Google or your money back!) are rife with deceit. Oh sure, it’s possible to get rich in less than 90 days, but statistically, it’s unlikely. And nobody should make Google guarantees unless they are (you guessed it) Google.
When you practice business ethically, you don’t need to deceive people into buying your products and services. If you’re fulfilling a need or desire that people have, then they will be willing to pay you for it. When you’re doing business online, if you can’t sell your wares honestly, then maybe your wares aren’t worth selling.
Easily Detected or Seen Through
We’ve all visited a business website to try and contact customer service to get a little help. You click a help button, then a support link, and you end up on a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. But your question isn’t addressed, and you can’t find a single way to contact the business. There’s no email address, no phone number, not even a mailing address. Somebody doesn’t want to be contacted. Why?
Businesses that allow themselves to be easily contacted have an advantage over other companies. Consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for the same product if they believe they’ll get better service and support. In the age of phone-answering systems and website rerouting, it’s easier than ever for businesses to give their customers the runaround. Transparency means allowing customers to find you and get in touch with you (or a representative of your business).
When customers come to your website, is it clear what you’re offering? You’ve probably seen commercials for products and wondered, What is that? Maybe you’ve visited a website and had no idea what, exactly, the business behind the site could do for you. When you use industry jargon or complex language, people cannot understand what you’re saying, and they, in turn, will not become your customers. Make an effort to always be clear.
Visibility of Information Concerning Business Practices
Hidden fees and questionable agendas are the bane of consumers everywhere. You think you’re getting the full package, but it turns out you’re just getting some parts. They told you it would cost $50 a month, but then you get the bill and it’s closer to $60. You ordered a product online and the company automatically entered you into a monthly program, so now you’re receiving an ongoing, monthly supply, and your credit card keeps getting charged over and over again.
There are plenty of ethical dilemmas in business that can give business owners or customers pause. Occasionally, situations arise where it’s not completely clear what the morally right course of action should be. In other cases, it’s as clear as day, yet businesses continue to operate in murky waters, and they just keep getting dirtier and dirtier.
This is not a good way to create a buzz about your products. The fact is, consumers talk. People love to complain to each other about how crappy your service is or how shoddy your products are. Or how you duped them. For every ten positive experiences that your customers have, you’re lucky if one of those gets shared. For every ten negative experiences, you can bet all ten will be retold again and again.
Doing Business Online
Transparency online is easy. You tell folks what you’re selling. Show them how your products or services will make their lives better. Promise that you’ll do your best to serve them. Then meet that promise. If you’re selling a useful or beneficial product or service, this shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m always confounded by businesses that sneak around and try to pull underhanded tactics on consumers. If you’ve got a worthwhile product, you don’t need to be sneaky. You can be completely transparent.
Melissa Donovan is a website consultant and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward and the author of over seven books.