Acclaimed American author Dr Stephen R. Covey argued that in all our relationships we have an “emotional bank account” and our interactions either increase or decrease the balance of trust and connection.
“When the trust account is high, communication is instant, easy and effective,” he wrote. According to Covey, “trust is one of the most essential ingredients in effective communication and the foundational principle that holds all relationships, (business or otherwise), together.” Essentially, without trust, relationships fracture and communication fails.
Whenever we book a flight, purchase a new car or open a bank account we are relying on the airline, car manufacturer or financial institution not just to meet our expectations and deliver on their promises, but also to look after us and keep our best interests at heart. We need to believe the business to be safe, reliable and trustworthy before we commit to becoming a customer. Trust is not just a business imperative; it gives a business a competitive edge.
Trust is paramount in the customer-company relationship, yet not all businesses recognise just how easily trust can be lost. In recent times, trust has been eroded by data breaches, privacy concerns and legal and independent investigations such as the Australian Royal Commission into the Banking and Financial sector. In the recent Salesforce State of the Connected Customerreport, only 54 per cent of customers believed companies had their best interests in mind . On the other side of the equation, more than 8 out of ten small business leaders value trust above all else in their relationships with customers, employees and vendors .
This trust deficit creates a prime opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves simply by being an organisation people can trust.
Trusted companies are also the most successful. Customers who purchase from trusted brands have been found to make 90 per cent more frequent purchases and spend an average of 60 per cent more in each transaction  than with those they do not trust. So how can businesses gain and keep their customer’s trust?
There are three different types of trust businesses must establish with their customers: foundational, experiential and reputational trust. Each takes time to build and plays an essential role in establishing and growing the customer relationship.
Most consumers now expect businesses will collect and manage their data, and fiercely protect the security and privacy of this data. Data breaches can destroy a long-term relationship overnight. This is why all businesses need to ensure that they reduce their exposure to the potential risk of a data breach by having suitable security measures in place to protect all customer data regardless of which channel was used to collect it. The way a business is able to securely store and protect customer data and their approach to how they manage the data they collect as well as how they respect the privacy of their customer data can have a huge impact on consumer trust.
Today’s consumers expect businesses will intuitively understand how they expect to be treated. People are drawn to businesses that actively demonstrate they are acting in the best interest of their customers. For example, should a customer request a refund, the responsibility to action and process this refund should be on the business, and not dependent on the customer to chase. Businesses who take away the burden of the relationship from the customer and make their experience as straightforward as possible, quickly develop a reputation for putting their customer’s needs first. It shouldn’t be viewed as ‘going above and beyond’ but rather ‘business as usual’ to deliver on promises and act in the best interest of their customer.
Experiential trust is built with each and every interaction that a customer has with your brand. Having an ongoing personal connection with your customer is a vital step in establishing and growing relationships between businesses and customers. Today’s consumers are more willing to share information about themselves with brands through many different interactions, including phone contact, email, online forms, social channels and face-to-face. In exchange for sharing their information, customers expect that companies will listen carefully and match their requirements and personal preferences with fit-for-purpose and user-friendly products and services. Businesses can demonstrate their listening and understanding of their customer’s needs by providing a genuinely personalised customer service based on previously shared information and making every interaction efficient, proactive, knowledgeable and effective in solving problems for the customer.
If a customer places their trust in your business, you should nurture that trust for the long term. For example, your employees could be rewarded for fostering strong customer relationships rather than simply making their sales target or reducing call times. Show that you’re committed to the customer’s needs long after the deal is done with a follow-up call or after-sales training session. Empower employees to solve customer problems without bouncing them from department to department. Pick up the phone, rather than drafting an impersonal email. As activist and poet Maya Angelou said: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will always remember how you made them feel.” When your organisation puts building trust first over profits, customers will reward you with their wallets again and again.