Building Trust with Customers
We’ve all heard of the ol’ “gentleman’s agreement.” Some may believe it was just an old-fashioned term for a handshake deal. In reality, the phrase appears in British Parliamentary records from 1821 and in Massachusetts public records as far back as 1835.
The Gentleman’s Agreement is dead. It sounds dramatic, but it is a fact we must all come to acknowledge (for many reasons we will not address here). Nevertheless, it is still possible to build trust in our businesses and trust with our customers.
According to the book Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey, trust is created through character and competence. At the Better Business Bureau (BBB), we like to think of those two key elements as integrity and performance.
Integrity is having respect for customers and employees. It includes telling the truth and leaving the right impression. Integrity is having the courage to do what is right, even when it is hard. When you say you will do something, you follow through.
Trust is also about performance — your skills, your results and your track record. People need to know they can count on you to get the job done, and get it done right.
The total value of a customer is not just the amount of money a customer spends with you. It is the value they spend with you plus the value of what everyone they refer to you spends with you. As an equation, it would look something like this:
Initial purchase + repeat purchase + referral purchase = Total Customer Value
Trust is the foundation for customer loyalty. Once you have earned a customer’s trust, they are more likely to do more business with you – by spending more, repurchasing and referring you to others. Much like time, trust is money.
On the flip side, if a customer does not trust you, it is likely to have a negative impact on your bottom line. When customers do not trust you, they spend less, go with a competitor and are more likely to share negative experiences with others.
Sometimes the way that you disclose pertinent information can affect credibility. Companies need to also realize how far consumer skepticism can go: if your “full disclosure” is in fine print or spoken fast at the end of a commercial, consumers are going to notice.
When customers do not trust you, they are likely to share negative reviews. In many cases, most of your business is word of mouth. What if it is negative word of mouth? Everybody has heard the old cliché, “a happy customer tells one person. An unhappy customer tells ten.”
Business owners can quickly forget that part customer satisfaction is employee satisfaction. If my employees are not happy, how do I expect to make my customers happy? Whether it is a peer or manager, employee morale is key to a harmonious working environment. Engaged employees are the happiest employees.
To build trust, create an environment that focuses on your customers and employees. Involve and empower employees – make them feel like a valued part of the team. Studies show that when employees are engaged, they are more committed to your business.
Listen to and engage customers – let them know they are important to you. Put processes in place to measure and monitor performance - this is your opportunity to instill continuous improvement into your company.
Take action on employee and customer suggestions and concerns. The foundation of your business should be the “Golden Rule” – treat others as you’d like to be treated. It’s always important to remember to be transparent. Actions and communications should be straightforward and clear – with employees and customers.
A great example of a business which stands behind their performance is a clothing store whose return policy reads:
“If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price. We mean every word of it. Whatever. Whenever. Always. But to make sure this is perfectly clear, we’ve decided to simplify it further. GUARANTEED. PERIOD.”
This is an extreme case. But, if put to practice, it can create not only satisfied customers, but what management guru Ken Blanchard would call, “Raving Fans.”
The most successful businesses are those that customers trust. When customers trust a brand they are more comfortable paying for their services, providing personal information, recommending the company to a friend, and more likely to return time and time again. Building trust among your customers is something takes time and is a continuous effort.
Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency, transparency, reliability and respect. And once achieved, it might just feel like a good old handshake.
Adam Price is Regional Director of the Better Business Bureau serving the Greater Killeen area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.