I want you to think about the closest relationships you have right now. Who are the most important people in your life — parents, significant other, friends? What makes you feel so close to them?
One of the main things our closest relationships rely on is trust.1
We can all probably name a couple people in our lives who broke our trust, that we aren’t close to now.
So why is it different in business?
It’s not. Trust is just as important in our business as it is in our personal lives. Don’t believe me?
Think about your cable company — and the last time you had to call customer service. If your cable company is anything like mine was, calling the customer service line was a particular type of hell. Constant waiting, only to finally be told that the thing you wanted couldn’t be done.
And heaven forbid you actually needed a technician to come out to your house. You were told they’d be there on Tuesday between 10 am and 2pm, which is cable-speak for “sometime between next month and never.” Then they’d finally knock on your door at 3am two days later. Because we all have nothing better to do than wait around and be woken up before dawn.
There’s absolutely no trust. When you call the cable company, you know you’re about to get hosed. So you figure the whole company, and the entire industry, is shitty. And as soon you get the chance, you ditch it for Hulu or Netflix. This type of mistrust has led to the decline of the TV subscription industry.
So what does this have to do with your business?
If your customers stop trusting you, your company will die.
It’s really that simple.
Because when customers feel like they can’t trust you, they leave.
We all need to trust in order to live our lives. When you get in a cab, you trust that the guy driving isn’t going to crash you into another car.
When you eat at a restaurant, you trust that nothing shady has been done to it.2
And when you buy something from a store, you trust the cashier not to shortchange you.
An incredible amount of our lives depends on this trust.
And when you think about it that way, it becomes clear that this is a shared resource. When a group of people chooses to mistreat others and erodes away trust, it has an effect like water trickling down stone — eventually, the stone is eroded away entirely.
Dan Ariely has done amazing work on how trust, and even revenge, play a huge role in our lives. And he’s found over and over, that it’s impossible for us to function together without trust.
Creating trust with your customers is easier than you might think, and doesn’t require you to do any more than you would do in a personal relationship.
And just like with a friend, you have to earn the trust of your customers, by showing them that you are trustworthy.
Only promise what you can deliver
You might have heard the phrase “under-promise and over-deliver” when dealing with customers. And while you don’t want to under-promise too much, at the risk of losing your edge, the sentiment behind this works.
Don’t promise a client a fitness plan that will have them looking ripped in 30 days if it’s really only going to make them lose 3 pounds. You have to be honest and realistic. And when your customers find that they lost 3 pounds and gained muscle, they’ll be extra confident in what you tell them.
Let people see who you really are.
Being transparent means a lot of things. It means talking to your customers in your own voice, it means highlighting that you are a human, not just a company, and it means being open and not keeping secrets.
“The top benefit we’ve seen is that being transparent has increased the level of trust both between team members and also with our customers. We have shown we are dependable and will keep customers informed of important issues the moment we know about them.”
And if you’re wondering what kind of havoc a lack of transparency can wreak, then let me direct you over to Volkswagen, the company currently on the chopping block for their emissions scandal.
Take responsibility for the actions of your company
There’s nothing that we hate more than when a company makes a mistake, and then tries to sweep it under the rug.
At press conferences, they look into flashing cameras, shrug their shoulders, and give some diplomatic non-answer equivalent to “We don’t really know what happened.”
That’s when you can hear the collective reply of “Bullshit!”
When your company makes a mistake, even if it’s something small like not responding to a customer query, take responsibility, apologize, and make amends proportionate to the mistake. People are far more forgiving when you acknowledge you’ve done something wrong.
Sadly, we don’t have as many stories of companies taking accountability as we do of them dodging it.
The case that most people site is the Johnson & Johnson Tylenol tampering incident from the 1980s, when a murderer laced extra-strength Tylenol with potassium cyanide, killing seven people.
In response, the company immediately pulled their inventory off the shelves, and stopped production and advertising.
In order to ensure this didn’t happen in future, they created tamper-resistant packaging and an informational label letting customers know that the seal on the pills would help keep them safe.
They took control of a worst case scenario, by taking immediate action and taking responsibility for making sure things were done better in the future.
Creating a business that’s worth trusting should be one of your main goals. If you’re not worth trusting, then you’re definitely not worth doing business with.
When you have a business that people know they can trust, you create customer loyalty, and having a small loyal customer base is far more valuable than have a constant turnover of new customers.3
I’m sure you’ve heard your mom, or grandma, or dad say this a million times, but it’s worth repeating because it’s true:
Trust takes a long time to build and one mistake to lose.
In other words, don’t be an asshole. Because nobody likes an asshole and eventually people will stop standing for it.4
But, as you prove to your customers that you’re a trustworthy brand, they’ll happily choose you over the competition.
And if they don’t, I seriously beg you to reconsider that relationship. Oooh I’ve been there…↩
Unless you’re one of those horrible people that antagonizes and talks down to the wait staff, in which case you might have spit in your food. And while I’m not saying you deserve it… I’m also not saying you don’t.↩
Incidentally, I think this is what sunk the cable companies. They make the most money on new customers, so they let their customer care and customer retention plans go to hell. When the public finally came to a consensus that the cable companies did, in fact, suck, there was a huge fallout to find an alternative.↩
And soon after that, they won’t even sit for it. Also, I realize how bad that joke is. But it’s out there now, and we’ve all got to live with that.↩