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 O2 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. Things 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 O2, and he repeated that he was ringing about O2, and continued to try to sell to me.
Why on earth would I buy something from someone who had already lied twice in less than 2 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 expect us to buy from them. Sometimes it's deliberate, other times it's through ignorance. This was clearly deliberate.
Research indicates that trust in institutions is declining, (no wonder - our politicians and banks could be seen as a couple of reasons!). We are much more questioning about advertisements and are much more likely 'not to believe the hype' - Apparently 76% of consumers don't believe that companies tell the truth in advertisements (that figure amazed me - I couldn't believe it was so low!). It's also very clear that the world is becoming much more transparent - 'comparison' websites, on-line forums and communities, and social networks mean that customers and prospective customers can find out a lot more about what others say and think about your business (and your competitors) very quickly and easily.
What does this mean for those of us in business? I believe it means going out of our way to do things that build trust with customers. I'd like to stress this is not about 'hype', and it's not about advertisements, brochures, websites, or 'sales pitches' telling them how great you are. It's about DOING things that customers see, feel, and touch. They have to 'experience' it, and experience it consistently.
What sort of things? Well, as a starter, and just to get you thinking, here are 20 things you could do that would help build trust with me as a customer.
1. A handwritten personal note - something that is relevant to me and shows you know about me, my circumstances and understand my needs.
2. A phone line direct to you or your mobile (I've even seen some people prepared to give out home phone numbers!).
3. When your people say 'Good morning Andy, we were expecting your call' or welcome me and recognise me when I come to your office.
4. A postcard or letter that acknowledges the specifics of the 'customer comments' card I took the time to fill in for you, not a bland 'general' letter that gets sent to everyone saying 'thanks for your comments, our customer services team really values your opinion'.
5. Frontline people who can make a decision 'on the spot' - and don't say 'the manager isn't here today, can you call back?'
6. Asking my opinion on a proposed new product / service / idea, and then even better, using it and keeping me involved as you develop it.
7. Saying 'No, we can't do that, but here's who can...' and signposting me to someone who can help me.
8. Follow up calls to check that everything is ok, knowing exactly what I bought, and reacting proactively to whatever I say, whether it's positive or negative.
9. Receiving only relevant, value adding post and emails from you that demonstrate you understand me and /or my business
10. Transparent pricing - no hidden costs (budget airlines please take note!)
11. Real signatures with 'personalised and relevant' PS's, not printed, pp'd or anonymous squiggles (to me, 'pp' implies you couldn't be bothered to sign it!)
12. Personal stuff about the people who'll be working with me / looking after me - demonstrate to me they are 'real people'!
13. Acknowledging when you get it wrong, saying sorry and sorting the problem quickly.
14. Support / help / customer care lines that don't 'cost me' - why should I pay if I've got a problem, question or query about something you've supplied?
15. People who 'know their stuff', have real knowledge about what they are selling, understand my 'challenges' and issues, 'speak my language', and give me advice that 'adds real value' and helps me make better decisions.
16. Ensuring that your number is displayed when you call me - what have you got to hide? Are you scared I won't answer if I know it's you!!!
17. Giving me the same deal as the new customers you're trying to attract - providing 'new' customers with better deals suggests you don't 'value' me, or even worse, you take me for granted - that's not a good sign!
18. Making it easy to 'unsubscribe', 'opt out', say 'no' - don't leave me with a nasty taste in my mouth if I want 'out'. I can assure you I'll never come back if you try and 'tie me in'!
19. No 'small print'
20. 'Conversations' rather than 'talking at' in your calls, emails and letters - think 'dialogue, not diatribes'. Listen to me, 'engage' me, seek my opinion, and respond accordingly.
Let's be clear, these things only work if your core products and services actually 'deliver' in the first place, and do it every time. 'Trust' builds with 'consistency'. These things will help build on that. It's also worth pointing out that 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 do have a go. Your challenge is to make them relevant to your business, and crucially, to your customers! What could you do to create, build and reinforce trust with your customers?
Finally, some 'words of wisdom' from Seth Godin in his book 'Tribes':
"People don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves."
Your challenge is to do things that help them tell themselves that they trust you. Sometimes, doing small, simple things can seriously help that happen.
How do I know? Trust me, I'm a management consultant!