Why everyone benefits from company transparency

By | March 1st, 2017

When our research team saw the email from Costco, we wondered whether we were inhabiting an alternate reality — and why it isn’t the norm.

Not only did Costco notify us of a personnel change that required a contact update, but it supplied us with the correct information for the new contact, including the person’s full name, email address and telephone number.

Hell must have frozen over — because our experience has been that corporations do not like to provide this information to the public, let alone us. They go out of their way to hide it. And sometimes when we publish it, we receive negative responses from executives, including a recent request through our help request form to take down a corporate contact.

Costco seems to understand that transparency in business communications helps facilitate problem-solving and accountability for company personnel, which in turn leads to good customer relations for businesses. When companies go to so much trouble to hide their contact information, we wonder what that says about their corporate missions and how much they value their customers — not to mention their willingness to be open and honest with the public about their activities.

And that raises questions about the quality of their goods and services.

This corporate secrecy exists not only at the executive level, but also farther down the ladder at the sales team and customer service level. Company agents often use only their first names in telephone calls, chats and emails, forcing customers to devote extensive time and effort to figure out whom to contact, to whom they have previously spoken and how to reach them.

Related story:   The truth about "transparent" airfares

Our company contacts section, regularly updated by our research team, exists to shortcut the process for consumers who need to reach a business and help them to self-advocate. We update it by searching company websites, search engines, social media and online public databases such as Data.com, Hoovers, LexisNexis and other public websites for this information and adding it to our contacts section. At no time do we use data from private sources to update the comments section.

As a research team member, I can assure you that it takes several hours and a great deal of perseverance to look at so many websites, determine which persons are currently the appropriate ones to contact and compile their specific information. That’s because many company sites don’t contain even the most basic contact information beyond a toll-free number or an email address for general contacts — which may not reach the persons who are empowered to assist customers.

It’s been suggested that if direct contact information for company personnel were made publicly available, they would have to handle such a high volume of communications that they wouldn’t be able to focus on their work.

That’s understandable — but not an acceptable reason to hide — for upper-level contacts.

But it makes no sense for sales and customer service agents, whose jobs require them to be accessible — unless their specific purpose is to act as gatekeepers and prevent customers from actually communicating with anyone at the company. And because negative publicity about companies spreads as quickly as a social media post can go viral, it’s counterproductive in terms of profitability for company employees to be inaccessible.

Related story:   United Airlines

Hiding contact information is counterproductive in another way: It prevents consumers from personally thanking the persons at companies who provide them with excellent customer service and giving testimonials on their behalf, which can generate additional goodwill between companies and the public.

So everyone benefits when company contact information is made public — the companies, their employees and their customers. We thank Costco for realizing this and for making our jobs easier — and more importantly, for helping its customers.

Should companies provide us with corporate contact information for publication?

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  • Steve Rabin

    Costco is definitely a different company than many others that treat their customers as necessary evils. They really are all about the customers, from their extremely liberal return policy to their friendly (and long-term) employees. I am a long time member of Costco, and I swear by them not only for their prices and quality, but because they treat the customers very well.

  • MarkKelling

    This has improved my opinion of Costco greatly. Too bad I don’t need products in mega packaging or I would definitely shop there.

  • Bryan Kilian

    They do sell some things in reasonable sizes. It’s not all 5 gallon buckets of mayo (with the tiny “small children may drown” text on the side…).

  • PsyGuy

    here is my issue if an executive is being a good corporate citizen and taking these calls when do they get the other stuff done? What ends up happening is the executive becomes a defacto CSR or they hire or assign someone below them to field the calls, and if they get enough of them they hire more assistants until you have a functional CSR department and the executive has gotten a new number.

  • PsyGuy

    True, but let’s remember that COSTCO is a membership shopping club. We are paying them not for a service or goods, but the opportunity to buy additional service or goods. COSTCO gets to say “yes” a lot more often to its customers because membership fees pad against CS costs.

  • PsyGuy

    Really, it says “small children may drown”?

    I agree there are some more reasonable size items, and some things such as toilet paper and paper towels bigger really is better. I’ve yet to really have a day where I actually make the switch from TP to leaves.

  • LonnieC

    I’m actually not surprised at Costco’s approach in this instance. We’ve dealt with Costco, and it’s approach to customer service is, sadly, quite better than most others. In fact, at several friends’ recommendations, we drove five hours round trip to the nearest Costco for a hearing test and aid, and were amazed at the level of professionalism and customer care it offered. Much better than a previous experience at a major local hospital and ENT medical office. Costco is a different kind of store, and one most others should copy.

  • LonnieC

    Perhaps the real benefit is that when an executive sets a pattern of openness, it trickles down. And as general staff realizes that the top guns get calls when something’s not working out, the staff may also work harder to fix things first. I can only hope….

  • Alan Gore

    Costco is a different world, not a place where you go when there is some specific item you need. Costco shoppers go for the super-discounted bulk item of the week, whether it be a 144-pack of AA cells or the hundred rolls of TP. When a Costco shopper needs the next bottle of shampoo, she ‘shops’ for it in her own garage.

  • Methinks that many existing Costco members already know that the company is an ‘up front’ entity.

    It’s gratifying to know that if there was ever a problem that I wouldn’t get pushed aside and lied to.

    The Netflix business model is another to be applauded.

  • Carchar

    I bought an HP printer from Costco and it just stopped grabbing the paper a little after 2 years after I bought it. I took it back with the intention of trying to exchange it for another similar model. I had the original receipt. They took it back, no problem, and thanked me for still having the receipt, which made things easier for them. They didn’t have the one we wanted that day, so I just ordered it online from them. In addition to being customer friendly, I like that they pay their employees a living wage plus benefits. I am happy to give them my business, paying a little more to do so.

  • Carol Molloy

    Lots of interesting points here. As someone who handled complaints forwarded to EVPs, and our CEO, I’d like to offer some perspective from my experience.

    A large, publicly traded corporation must have, for practical reasons, a process for handling those complaints. The CEO holds us accountable for prompt, courteous, and professional investigations and replies. The executive to whom the complaint was directed is provided with follow, in the event that a personal reply from that individual is necessary. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect a CEO to devote his time to personally investigating and orchestrating resolution.

    Regarding call center personnel not providing full names, etc., there are often two factors at work here. The first is security. It seems unbelievable, but some people attempt to locate and physically confront customer service representatives. As an employer, we need to provide reasonable security for those individuals. I’ve had personal experience with these troubling behaviors, and while they are infrequent, the risk exists and is unpredictable.

    The second reason may have to do with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and state-level telemarketing statues. While this covers predominantly outbound calls, this body of legislation provides a framework for how employees may identify themselves to clients. In some businesses, the same teams are making outbound as well as handling inbound calls. A single protocol helps prevent confusion and inconsistency.

    I am not defending poor customer service in any way, just providing some insight on the process.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I believe that label has to be on all five gallon buckets sold in the US, regardless of the contents or lack thereof.

  • Jeff W.

    We love our Costco. It is not just about bulk food purchases — our family of three can’t take advantage of it.

    The home electronics. You can get glasses and contact lenses much cheaper. For parties, their personalized sheet cakes are awesome and are much cheaper than a bakery or most grocery stores. You can buy gift cards there at a discount too. You can get $100 for a place like Smashburger for $80. And if you mail items, a roll of stamps costs less at Costco than the Post Office.

  • PsyGuy

    That is very true, living in Japan I sometimes find myself wishing I had more space to make some purchase at Costco feasible.

  • PsyGuy

    I think there might be some underestimation of how many calls are fielded by CSR departments. If you are someone like Apple even the truly wronged who have been through tier 1 and tier 2 support and have then moved though consumer relations and then contact the CEO would still be hundreds of contacts and even over a year that’s 1 or 2 a day.

  • PsyGuy

    LOL that made my day.

  • BubbaJoe123

    I honestly have no idea if the warning does any good, but kids do drown in buckets, sadly.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/though-rare-common-household-buckets-responsible-for-child-drowning-deaths/1183710

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