It is not in a company’s true interests to be secretive. It should be putting out its ideas and its problems to the wider world if it really wants to find solutions, improve efficiency and create customer loyalty.
L'Atelier: Why should a company work with its stakeholders on an open basis?
Bertrand Dussauge: First of all because this gives it greater capacity to find solutions to problems, due to the number of people thinking about them and the number of ideas that will be generated. Large companies are becoming a bit like those massive ocean liners, where no-one talks to anyone. This is what I was pointing to when I suggested that we ought to ink in Mondrian’s famous line if we want to create an idea because it’s that process of opening up which enables a company to innovate, to get ideas. You only have to look at the success of SAP, which has created a network of thousands of people. The firm then published a study which showed that when it posted a problem on the network, it was solved in twenty minutes, compared with the two days it took if it was only sent round internally. So opening up via a network can bring the company efficiency gains. If twenty of us with identical interests each reads twenty articles we can together get through 400 but one person working alone would only manage to cover one in 20. Working more openly means you can track what’s going on in a more astute, more targeted way. And companies which open up come across as more ‘genuine’, more trustworthy.
So that should help them improve their image…
Yes, but not only that. When a bank such as BNP Paribas opens a blog or a Twitter after sales service, or the French railway company SNCF opens a discussion with its customers, knowing that they will want to talk about train delays and so they’ll be airing the company’s problems in public, what the company is actually doing is committing to solving these problems. This means that such companies increase their goodwill capital and come across as more trustworthy. The customer can see that the company is making an effort, and is more likely to forgive its problems. This in turn increases customer involvement and loyalty. Moreover, whether a company is talking to current or potential customers, it is actually benefitting from a real-time market study. Because if a company manages to create loyalty among a captive audience which is interested in its products, it will have a barometer of the quality of its operations, which in turn helps drive R&D, innovation and tailoring products and services to customer needs.
Is all this compatible with the French way of doing things, which is inclined to be more buttoned up?
In France we’re not early adopters, that’s true. Traditionally we’re secretive. And some sectors, such as finance, still have no role models for the open approach and are afraid of having to cope with outcomes which are negative rather than positive. There are two things that can make companies act: regulation and competition. In France some companies are already starting to open up, but I think that in the coming years scarcely 10% of bosses in their forties will go that way. Based on the examples we have now, it won’t be more than that. Opening up will come from the younger generation, which has a different mindset. They’re the ones who’ll create more transparent companies. Take the example of (sock-making company) Archiduchesse, which is not afraid to tell readers of its blog about problems with deliveries, or to display upfront samples of socks which it’s planning to market.