A matter of trust

2006

I've just put the phone down on a salesman who was trying to be someone else. He called implying he was from the phone company 02 and was checking to see that as a current customer everything was ok. I assumed that it was a service call so I took it.

But it soon became clear he wasn't who he appeared to be as he started to sell his own company's services. I asked if he was from 02, and he repeated that he was ringing about 02, and continued to try to sell to me.

Yet why on earth would I buy something from someone who had already lied twice in less than two minutes – once to my office manager and once to me?

Some companies just don't get it. They use ambiguity, misdirection and deception to win business and still expect us to buy from them. Sometimes it's deliberate, other times it's through ignorance. This was a clearly deliberate.

More than ever, trust is playing an integral part in our buying decisions. We appear to becoming naturally less trusting (some would say 'less naïve'), more questioning and more unlikely to 'believe the hype'.

Trust in institutions is declining - and no wonder. Enron and other business scandals, financial services mis-selling, Supersize Me! The Corporation and NO Logo are just a handful of reasons.

We also have access to far more information – and not just that put out by the providers of products and services. Consumer opinions, both good and bad, feature heavily on hundreds of web sites like Trip Advisor, I-Tunes and Amazon to name but a few.

In other words, word of mouth (and word of mouse) is on the increase. Why? Because we're more likely to believe our family, friends and colleagues than anything that a company tells us. The result of all this? Businesses must work harder at building and maintaining trust with potential and existing customers.

The traditional "trust me, I'm a lawyer / doctor / accountant" simply doesn't hold true anymore, any more than the "you'll believe us if our advertisements tell you to enough times" approach.

Customers want to be treated with respect and intelligence. And just like any personal relationship, this needs developing. Trust has to be built. But as a recent report by the UK National Consumer Council found, while this is primarily what customers want, many companies simply can't deliver it.

Why is that? Perhaps it's the short-sightedness of the lure of the 'quick sell' or instant profits. Too many sales people are judged only on sales targets and new business, not customer satisfaction and retention.

But maybe it's also because, like in 'real' life, some organisations are incapable of developing relationships.

Customers look for signs – I call them 'Trust Builders – that help them build confidence and reassure them that they are valued as customers. Unfortunately, too often they experience 'Trust Busters'.

Here are some examples:

Trust Builders
  • Keeping your promises
  • Acknowledging my loyalty
  • Transparency
  • Admitting mistakes, saying sorry and fixing things
  • Providing relevant, value adding advice and information
  • Giving me named 'real' people I can talk to and contact
  • Personalising my correspondence, getting my name right, real signatures (and adding ps's!)
  • Calling to ask 'how are things?
  • Front line people who can make decisions
  • Telling the truth
Trust Busters
  • Failing to deliver (or even just telling me it's going to be late!)
  • Providing new customers with better offers
  • Hidden costs (Can someone actually explain Airline 'taxes and charges'?)
  • Hiding, no one taking responsibility
  • Junk mail, 'spam', pushing products I don't need (overpriced warranties anyone?)
  • Anonymity and bureaucracy
  • Mass marketing, printed signatures (even worse, no signature, squiggles and pp's – couldn't you be bothered to sign it yourself?)
  • Only hearing from you when you want an order or a payment
  • Scripts
  • Providing 'deceptive' information (80% 'fat free' is still 20% fat!!!)

Who are the businesses that are getting it right? Here are five simple examples I've come across lately:

Provide guarantees: UK Retailer the John Lewis Partnership are 'never knowingly undersold' – if you can buy the same goods cheaper elsewhere, they will refund the difference. But not only this, they proactively contact recent purchasers who have paid more previously when a price difference is pointed out to them.

Did you also know they maintain their promise by rewarding staff who spot competitors charging less?

Publish feedback on your website, both good and bad. More and more businesses are giving customers a voice. As well as demonstrating trust, having an 'unedited' feedback section on your website, also puts you completely 'behind the 8 ball'.

Open Your Doors: An engineering business that invites customers in and lets them meet its shop floor people; a design company sends its office based people out to let them get to know what their customers really do and feel.

Stand Up And Be Counted: An insurance broker that regularly and systematically asks their customers to rate them on 'Trust'. It does this by questionnaire and publishes a monthly 'score' internally and externally.

Live Your Values: Amazing as it may sound, Enron published its values in its 2000 Annual Report – one of which was 'Integrity'! So, it's not what you say, it's what you DO!

Check out Innocent Drinks' website. In my opinion, they are a company that strives to live its values – they even admit they don't always get it right. Have a look at www.innocentdrinks.co.uk/us

So how does your business measure up? Why not take time out to find out?

Try taking these simple steps:

Step One: Identify your 'Trust' Busters – aim to eliminate or minimise them.

Step Two: Develop 'Trust' Builders – involve everyone in the business.

Step Three: Investigate internally – do you 'reward' trust builders, do your systems and processes really help build 'trust'? The ultimate aim is to build a culture that promotes 'Trust' throughout the organisation.

Also consider Step Four: Shout about it! – Actively 'demonstrate' your 'Trust Builders'

Let me be clear. Taking these steps also provides plenty of opportunities to get things wrong, so it's vital that this is no cosmetic exercise. I can't guarantee they'll work, but have a go. They'll help you develop stronger relationships with your customers.

How do I know? Trust me, I'm a management consultant!

more articles

About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.