When he was Chief Revenue Officer at PowerReviews, a technology company that helps retailers collect and display product reviews on their websites, Todd Caponi stumbled upon a truth that changed his professional life forever.
The company partnered with Northwestern University to study how online reviews influence sales. They understood that 95 percent of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase, but wanted to understand the degree to which those reviews impacted sales.
Among the other data that was gathered, there was one nugget that Caponi couldn’t get out of his head: “When a product has an average review score of between 4.2 and 4.5, it sells better than any other, including the 5-star products.” (Fun fact: 82 percent of us go right to the negative reviews. We skip by the 5 stars and go directly to the 1, 2, 3 and 4 stars to see what their experience was like.)
Caponi was stunned that a product that was not rated ‘perfect’ or even ‘excellent’ would sell better than its more positively reviewed counterparts. He wanted to figure out why and find out if this theory applied to human-to-human selling. So he dug into a passion project—after poring over 20 books on neuroscience and neuromarketing and conducting interviews with two neuroscientists, his theory was confirmed: Transparency sells better than perfection. This work led to a book contract and he quit his job to put his research to pen.
“When we lead with transparency, literally magic happens. Instead of talking about how awesome we are, start with, ‘Here are a couple things you might not like and what our competitors do better. If these are important, let’s talk about it now.’ Sales windows shrink immediately,” he said.
After poring over 20 books on neuroscience and neuromarketing and conducting interviews with two neuroscientists, his theory was confirmed: Transparency sells better than perfection.
“Leading with our flaws is the fastest path to a foundation of trust, which speeds decision making.”
Since Caponi had this well-researched epiphany, he’s gone on to write the award-winning book The Transparency Sale and is a speaker, trainer, and consultant for organizations around the world.
With the massive proliferation of reviews and feedback on everything we do, hiding behind our flaws is an outdated strategy that simply doesn’t work. Today, Caponi helps “salespeople not screw themselves into the ground by hiding their flaws."
“When we lead with our flaws and embrace transparency it’s a trigger for the [consumer’s] brain. People are wired to resist being influenced. When we don’t feel we’re being influenced, the rest of the [sales] path becomes optimized,” he said.
The power of transparency isn’t limited to sales. Caponi says leaders in customer experience (CX) and their employees can also apply this approach to interactions with customers. Here are four ways you can incorporate transparency into the broader customer experience:
[Related read: CXM best practices for every business]
1. Be open about flaws
IKEA is one of the leading furniture stores in the world, and they’re open about what they don’t offer: white glove service, heirloom quality pieces, fully assembled furniture… and that’s OK, according to Caponi.
“I believe Tyra Banks coined the term, ‘Flawsome’. It’s about embracing your flaws but knowing you’re still awesome. That’s the 4.2 to 4.5-star products. IKEA leads with, ‘We’re not for everyone.’ And then they’re up front about the things their customers love most about them—affordable, Scandinavian-designed furniture that you assemble in your home.”
Creating a good customer experience might mean showing new customers a few of the things they won’t be able to do with your product or service. Or maybe referencing a company that could fulfill their every wish—but don’t forget to follow up with all the things you can do for the customer. It’s a trust-building exercise.
Creating a good customer experience might mean showing new customers a few of the things they won't be able to do with your product or service.
2. Own mistakes
When things go sideways, as they invariably do, both leaders and great customer service employees understand that denying or minimizing a problem is one of the worst things you can do. Transparency about errors is an important way to show your customers that you’re honest.
[Related read: The trust economy and why it’s okay to get a bad rating]
In his former executive roles in client success, Caponi would meet with account managers for quarterly business reviews. While he wanted to hear about their successes, he was more interested in what went wrong. “Our presentation flow always started with something that went wrong in the last quarter. I wanted them to talk about the tech support issues they’d had to address. Starting with the elephant in the room helped us focus on what we learned,” he said.
And when it comes to dealing directly with customers, he advises owning the error or mistake immediately and rebuilding the experience from that point.
3. Design and serve with empathy
Human-centered organizations consider the consumer’s experience from start to finish with their products. By placing yourself in their personas, you can anticipate and address pain points and find innovative ways to surprise and delight them.
“Understanding the priorities and motivations of people is huge. They usually know when you really get them. Spending the time to connect on another person’s level is critical,” said Caponi.
[Related read: In a digital world, let customer trust be a differentiator]
4. Ask for honest feedback—and be open to receiving it
When one of Caponi’s biggest customers at PowerReviews told him they were leaving, he wanted to get to the bottom of why so they could learn from the customer’s experience and prevent the same problem in the future.
By placing yourself in their personas, you can anticipate and address pain points and find innovative ways to surprise and delight them.
Although the customer led the discussion with ROI data, Caponi knew there was something deeper at work. “I said, ‘I appreciate that we need to do a better job of exposing ROI so you can see it, and it makes sense you’re going to another solution, but, can I ask, what was the trigger that pushed you in this direction?’”
After a sigh, the customer admitted there was more to it. “One of the things he told me was, ‘When we didn’t do one or two of the tweaks you suggested, you basically reprimanded us. And when there was a technical issue, instead of immediately owning it, we told them that if they had done of our previous recommendations that it wouldn’t have happened,” said Caponi.
[Related read: Cultivate community for a better customer experience]
“This was the information that would help us grow as an organization. This is what’s so important to client success. Asking the tough questions, receiving the tough answers, and moving forward with the knowledge we need to give our customers the experience we want them to have.”
Caponi’s research is clear: The era of putting on a show is over. Instead, consumers want to buy products that they know are real and that have been tried and tested by others. They want to know what to expect—whether that’s about the awesome things your product or service can do for them, or its flaws, and where it might fall short.
To hear more from Todd, catch his session at Relate 2020: "The science behind motivation: Inspire your team to win." See all sessions and learn more about Relate.