Improving Customer Compatibility with Tradeoff Transparency

66 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2019 Last revised: 20 Jan 2021

See all articles by Ryan W. Buell

Ryan W. Buell

Harvard Business School

MoonSoo Choi

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit

Date Written: January 9, 2021


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 usage 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 wellbeing – 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.

Keywords: Behavioral Operations, Operational Transparency, Customer Compatibility, Customer Behavior

Suggested Citation

Buell, Ryan W. and Choi, MoonSoo, Improving Customer Compatibility with Operational Transparency (July 26, 2019). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 20-013, Available at SSRN: or

Ryan W. Buell (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

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617-496-6918 (Phone)


MoonSoo Choi

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

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