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Whole truth and nothing but the truth

by Sarah Craig

July 15, 2020

As consumers, we’re better informed than ever. We’re privy to brands’ sourcing and CSR policies, compare their prices and read their reviews. We know the carbon footprint of our trainers and GPS track our Ikea delivery lorries. Yet in the business world, we’re expected to sign a contract, then just leave the suppliers to it. In other words, there’s little to no operational transparency. Sure, we see the upfront cost, but we all know that costs aren’t always comparable, as they can reflect different service levels. And we witness the end result that, with multiple stakeholders and contributors on both the client’s and agency’s sides, may not accurately reflect agency effectiveness.

To objectively evaluate supplier’s ongoing performance, we need real operational transparency; clear insight into the value of the service and the ROI on our investment in it.

Why (good) agencies benefit too

It’s not hard to see why transparency is good for the client. But why should the agency take the risk of operationally exposing themselves to the client?

Multiple studies have shown the benefits of providing such insight, for both clients’ perceived value of service and for agency employee engagement and satisfaction. From Dominos’ Pizza Tracker app showing pizza chefs making customers’ orders in real time, to making the cleaning staff of Japanese bullet trains highly visible and encouraging their interaction with customers, transparency proved to increase sales, trust and satisfaction. The examples don’t stop there; from high end restaurants removing walls between the kitchen and seating area and finding that chefs’ job satisfaction increased, to travel aggregator websites like Skyscanner or Kayak showing every 3rd party site and system they search for the best deal, and so increasing user confidence that they’re truly getting the best deal around.

One of our clients, a leading snack producer, recently commissioned us to make a video for a major retail chain customer of theirs, all about their safeguarding procedures – giving them transparent insight into how food products are being prepared for sale in the age of COVID-19. Such proactive reassurance helps build trust between supplier and customer.

So why do many agencies still keep their clients at arm’s length from the day-to-day operations of their service? And why do brands not demand greater transparency?

Perhaps for the supplier, opacity gives a feeling comfort; the client isn’t privy to the furiously paddling feet of the swan gliding along the surface. At the same time, a lack of insight prevents the client from truly knowing what’s going on - and can also mean they underappreciate the value provided, hurdles overcome and problems addressed along the delivery process.

Know when to hold ‘em…and when to fold’em

So transparency is good for everyone, right? Not quite. It can expose weak areas in the service and processes. This in itself is not a death knell - we all know challenges arise in our own as well as our suppliers’ processes – provided they’re addressed effectively and at speed, they can help build long-term partnerships and optimise performance. (The exception to this is if the transgression is of a critical nature, such as poor food hygiene in a takeaway or the cleanliness of a medical facility – failures under exceptional levels of scrutiny since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.)

But even with the greatest goodwill, if the supplier is unable to address issues in their processes, or worse, seems slow or unwilling to do so, it might be time to reconsider the relationship. Brand owners not only deserve to have the information to make those decisions, we believe it’s incumbent on them to do so. This is why in our own work with our longtime clients, be it Microsoft, Disney, Boots or others, we’re evangelical about continuous improvement. It’s the right thing to do, and best for their and our businesses.

Blinded by science?

Clearly, you don’t want to see everything. Too much granular data can be overwhelming – and addictive! You get lost in it and end up seeing less clearly than you did before. Or spend hours combing through it all for that one crucial KPI.

So before any transparency dashboard is put in place, clients and agencies need to define the parameters. What would be genuinely useful to see? What would not put undue pressure on the supplier to provide (you want them focused on the service, not the performance data around the service). How do you want to see this information? There’s a lot to think about and define. But with dedicated suppliers and realistic clients, greater openness will lead to a closer and less guarded client-agency relationship, and greater satisfaction on both sides. For the long run.


business strategy
Brand Management
Supplier Management