What Clients Mean When They Say ‘Transparency’


Transparency is a term that can be overused and under defined. Clients use it as a word to express an unobstructed view into how the agency is working. Think of it as the agency working in a glass box and the client sitting outside it, watching. Of course its never that simple is it?

The client ultimately wants to peel back the top layer of glass, drop in puppet string and change some of the performance. Agencies have a different expectation of this term. Instead of a glass box they see it as an increase in communication towards explanation. In a best case scenario this is educational, in the worst it becomes an ‘in defense of’ exercise. Both of which are a margin eater for an agency, creating anxiety and stress for the collective team.

As with most communication and visibility elements of a relationship, expectations are the most important part of this discrepancy. Transparency in its most literal meaning is not a reasonable expectation from either party. Transparency is difficult within a single organization, so achieving it between two disparate groups can be even more challenging.

Rather than transparency, agencies and clients should focus on communication and documentation. The challenge is, of course, than everyone wants to solve the problem in 15 minutes. Having detailed records which properly reference other documents and artifacts is hard work. Clients often don’t have the budget or time to afford human beings the ability to think AND document. Rarely is this how we think about it, and even less often articulated between parties.

The challenge with relying on the thinking part alone is that people forget, miscommunicate and misinterpret. Think of the last three challenges you had internally – dollars to donuts they are communication related. Now think of a challenge with a client – discrepancy on a feature, an issue with a release, underwhelming training – its all about communication, either about managing expectations, or ensuring the comprehension of the info aligns to the intent with which it is communicated.

For me, transparency is an alert word that begs a deeper dive into process and “for instances”. It should be for you as well, no matter which side of the table you sit on.