What do we really know about trust when it comes to our customer relationships? Do we have the trust of our customers? And have we earned it?
Marketers, researchers and other CRM (customer relationship management) specialists toss around a lot of different terms having to do with building customer relationships. We hear a lot about creating the right customer experience, generating customer satisfaction, building customer loyalty and the necessary ingredient of customer trust. No question, these are all important for any business and for every business owner to understand. But of all of them, building and maintaining your customers’ trust may be the most critical—and the most difficult to pull off.
So what’s the difference between customer trust and loyalty? Loyalty refers to a strong preference or affinity for something. If consumers are loyal to a product or business, it means that the associated attributes and experience satisfy them to a degree that they just don’t want to try anything else in that category! Trust, on the other hand, carries with it some things that go a little deeper. Trust implies that, as a consumer, I know your brand and believe you are consistently delivering on your promises and have made my best interests, as your customer, your number one priority. I trust that you (your business, products and services) are what they appear to be—and what you say they are. And, based on this trust, I believe that your values are going to stay firmly intact and that you’ll continue to treat me fairly. Fairness, as it turns out, plays a big role in trust.
On the Pitney Bowes website, there’s a terrific white paper by European professors on The Role of Trust in Consumer Relationships, especially in service businesses. (It’s a long paper, but you can easily review the highpoints on SlideShare using the link above.) The discussion has much that applies across businesses of all sizes in all sectors, regardless of location. Think of the events of last five years-plus and longer. As consumers continue to feel the effects of bad (and even outrageous) business behavior, what’s taken the biggest hit? Trust. Increasingly, consumers have lost trust in banks, big oil and countless others. Many put trust ahead of value in their list of expectations, and across the board, they’re holding businesses to a new standard of accountability. Consumers want to be treated fairly, and based on their experiences, they now know that that’s not always a given, even though it should be.
It would seem that building trust with customers is an area where small and even mid-sized businesses have a hands-down advantage over big companies. We think it’s true, but that doesn’t mean small business owners can take the trust factor for granted. Your customers are holding you to high standards, too, and their trust must be earned. How important is trust in a successful business? The Wise Marketer says that trust is the very key to repeat business.
Trust is earned only by “living your brand values” so consistently that your customers never question, even for a minute, who you are, what you stand for and how you’ll treat them. Trust is about integrity, honestly and just plain being real. The Wise Marketer suggests four things you need to keep in mind to build and maintain trust:
- Never let your customers down.
- Always consider everything from customers’ perspective.
- Always do everything you can to justify customers’ faith in you.
- Never fail to go the extra mile to exceed their expectations.
Maintaining trust in today’s business environment isn’t easy. But it’s a lot easier than trying to regain trust once you’ve lost it, a position you never want to find your business in. Your bottom line—and your continued ability to be in business—depend on continuing to earn your customers’ trust, every minute of every day.
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