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What is Operational Transparency?

Have you ever eaten at Subway? Their servers, called Sandwich Artists, make your food to order right in front of you. Step-by-step you tell the Artist what you want and how much of it you’d like, and they construct your perfect Subway sandwich.

“Showing their work” has proven to a be compelling business proposition. Subway is one of the largest food franchises in the world, with more than 41,000 stores in 100 countries. If you’ve ever eaten at Subway, you’ve experienced the power of Operational Transparency.

Operational Transparency at Subway

Source: Google Images

What is Operational Transparency?

Operational Transparency is the inclusion of windows into your company’s process so customers can see the effort that’s going into their experience. According to recent research, experiences that use Operational Transparency cause customers to value products more highly and can even make people happier.

Operational Transparency has been demonstrated in various studies. For example, in an experiment about college cafeteria workers. They found that when students could see people making their food, they rated the quality of their meal 22% higher. Students were able to make a more personal connection, not just to the servers, but to the process of creating meals.

Even more interesting, when workers could see the students they were serving, output went up 19%. The servers could see the people for whom they were making food, so the process became more personal for them too. Employees cared more when they could make a connection with the people who benefited from their work. 

Real-world Examples of Operational Transparency

1. Dominos Pizza Tracker

Back in 2008, Dominos had a big operational and customer experience challenge. When a customer’s order took longer than expected, they’d call the store on the phone to see where it was.

This would cause a chain reaction . The employee on the phone would put the customer on hold, go back to the kitchen, talk to the staff, interrupting their pizza-making process. This process would cause operational chaos and delays for everyone.

Dominos Pizza Tracker Operational Transparency

Source: Google Images

Dominos knew they had to do something to stop customers from calling the store. They soon realized there was already a system they could use to improve order transparency — their order management software.

The software was used to create the Dominos Pizza Tracker, which showed customers exactly where their order was. It improved the customer’s experience and improved the store’s operations.

2. The City of Boston

Big cities the world over struggle with maintenance. Many times, the city is so busy fixing the problems that they don’t keep an eye on new ones that are developing.

To manage this challenge, Boston built a website where residents can report potholes and track the repair process online.

The program was such a success that the service can now be used for a litany of complaints. Snow shoveling, overflowing trash cans, and sign damage are all handled through the service.

There’s even a 311 app that anyone can download to take pictures and make reports on the fly.

Boston App Operational Transparency


3. Tessei 

Tessei is a Japanese company that cleans bullet trains. They transformed customer perceptions of their company by applying Operational Transparency.

Cleaning work wasn’t respected because it was perceived to be dirty, dangerous, and difficult. Teruo Yabe, a company leader, thought if the process was more transparent, customers might change their perceptions. Yabe knew he had to make cleaners stand out. He changed the color of employee uniforms from a pale blue that was hard to spot while crews were cleaning, to a bright red.

Train Operational Transparency

Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

Called the “7-minute miracle”, customers could easily see 22 people clean a thousand seats in only seven minutes. This simple visibility fundamentally transformed the dynamic between cleaners and customers. What had been perceived as a shameful job in the past, was now one to which people began to aspire.

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How to apply Operational Transparency to your experience

There are three key moments in the customer journey in which to provide transparency:

  1. People: Can our customers see, speak to, or interact with our employees? Can customers watch the labor process? Is there a way to make our employee’s process centerstage in the customer experience?
  2. Process: Do people know where our products come from, and how they’re made? Can we provide any more information on how their product is being assembled while they wait, or before they’ve seen the item on the shelf? Can we provide pictures or other visual confirmation?
  3. Post: When customers are waiting for a delivery, are we clear about where, when, and how this is being fulfilled? Is it clear to them what “late” looks like and are we communicating to them why a package might need to be delayed?

Operational Transparency: The Bottom Line

When customers respond to transparency, what they’re really engaging with are the people that deliver the experience. It’s the human side of a brand experience that makes it so compelling.

The more we automate the customer experience we need to consider how we show this transparency.

AI, chatbots, and automated checkouts can all provide operational efficiency, but we have to make sure they’re delivering operational transparency as well.

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