Transparency In Business: When, Why and How Much?

Pixabay (CC0 Licence)

When looked at from the outside, the business world can seem quite opaque. The field has a jargon all of its own, and seems to move at a different pace than the world beyond. For those “behind the curtain”, it’s never as exciting as this opacity might make it seem, but a few moments speaking with a customer can let you in on the fact that as far as they are concerned, you might as well be working in military intelligence.

Anyone who has handled a tricky customer services issue will know that there is often a line to be toed between giving the customer the answers they want, and giving up privileged information that isn’t yours to share. When you’re the owner of the business, you have more leeway over what you can and can’t divulge, but still there are issues raised by disclosure. In the modern day, few things are as important as transparency; a business or other entity that is seen as having “something to hide” can soon find itself in the firing line.

Why is transparency important?

A business that is reluctant to part with information when asked can be seen as secretive. When there is a gap between what someone is willing to divulge, and what someone else wants to know, there is a vacuum that can fill with speculation. Speculation, when unaddressed, can quickly become the “truth” to the people asking questions. So a business should always seek to answer questions as fully and as promptly as possible.

Is that 100% transparency?

No business can legitimately offer absolute transparency on everything, because just as you have a duty to your customers, you also have one to your employees. This is one reason why, by law, there is a period of time permitted to businesses before they turn over records; often, redactions will be needed to protect employee privacy.

What are the consequences of incomplete transparency?

A customer is entitled to see any and all records that a business holds with regard to them. From the moment their dealings with you begin, you should make sure that record-keeping is flawless, using PDF editor software to ensure that documents are stored in a shareable way. If, upon being asked, you are unable to turn over information that the customer knows they have shared with you, then they will legitimately ask how you have managed to lose it – and you could face serious repercussions.

How do I know which information I can share and which I cannot?

Once a customer has identified themselves to you and your business, you can answer questions that they have as long as those answers do not interfere with the privacy of another individual. Answers should only ever cover the information that is directly requested, and for fuller disclosures it is essential that you work with a lawyer who is expert in the growing field of data law. They will know what can be released and how, and will manage this process.

Transparency is an issue that is growing in importance as time goes on, and this is the case in business more so than anywhere else (outside of government). So knowing where you stand is essential, and informing yourself is a smart step.

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