Improving Customer Compatibility with Tradeoff Transparency

Published Online:

Through a large-scale field experiment with 393,036 customers considering opening a credit card account with a nationwide retail bank, we investigate how providing transparency into an offering’s tradeoffs affects subsequent rates of customer acquisition and long-run engagement. Although we find tradeoff transparency to have an insignificant effect on acquisition rates, customers who were shown each offering’s tradeoffs selected different products than those who were not. Moreover, prospective customers who experienced transparency and subsequently chose to open an account went on to exhibit higher-quality service relationships over time. Monthly spending was 9.9% higher and cancellation rates were 20.5% lower among those who experienced transparency into each offering’s tradeoffs. Increased product use and retention accrued disproportionately to customers with prior category experience: more-experienced customers who were provided transparency spent 19.2% more on a monthly basis and were 33.7% less likely to defect after nine months. Importantly, we find that these gains in engagement and retention do not come at the expense of customers’ financial well-being: the probability of making late payments was reduced among customers who experienced transparency. We further find that the positive effects of tradeoff transparency on engagement and retention were attenuated in the presence of a promotion that provided financial incentives to choose particular offerings. Taken together, these results suggest that providing transparency into an offering’s tradeoffs may be an effective strategy for informing customer choices, leading to better outcomes for customers and firms alike.

This paper was accepted by Vishal Gaur, operations management.

Funding: Funding for this research, apart from the costs Commonwealth Bank of Australia internally incurred to support the experiment, was provided by Harvard Business School. R. W. Buell has received compensation from Commonwealth Bank of Australia in the past for executive education teaching.

Supplemental Material: The online appendix and data files are available at

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