So You Think Your Customers Trust You? 5 Reasons To Think Again

Humans are social by nature, and technology is now amplifying that tendency, turning us into an always-connected, interactive network of advice, feedback, information, and gossip. For thousands of years we only interacted with others face to face, but we now do it by phone, email, status update, online chat, SMS, Skype, or FaceTime. Anything we "like," including people, products, companies, restaurants, photos, and other things, we can "share" with others via Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or LinkedIn. Moore’s Law states that every 15 years computers get a thousand times more powerful; Zuckerberg's Law says that every 15 years, we interact a thousand times as much with others.

One of the most important ingredients in any interaction between two people is trust, so the phenomenal progress in interactive technology has generated a rapid increase in our expectations for trustworthiness in others. When you trust the other party in your interaction, you don’t have to waste time or money checking sources or verifying details. Instead, you can rely on the new information immediately, whether it results in ordering a product, deciding to see a movie, paying a bill, or taking a trip. Untrustworthy interactions, on the other hand, are just so…inconvenient.

Trusting someone else depends on how you perceive both their intentions and their competence. Do they respect your interest (good intentions)? And do they have the competence to carry out these intentions?

The more we interact, the more trust we demand, and because this is also true for our interactions with businesses, your customers now expect you to be a lot more trustworthy than you have been so far. Today’s customers want proactive trustworthiness, or "trustability." Unfortunately, as Martha Rogers and I document in our new book Extreme Trust, the vast majority of companies operating today are anything but trustable. They haven’t yet adjusted to the hyper-interactive world we live in. They may not technically cheat their customers, but they still can’t be trusted. Not really.

Below is a five-question test that will reveal whether your customers can really trust you. If you can’t answer all five of the questions below with a "yes," then you still have a lot of work to do before your business is ready for the Age of Transparency:

1. Do you proactively protect your customers’ economic interests in their dealings with you? Answer "no" unless ALL of the following statements are true:

  • You remind customers when their warranty or guarantee period is about to expire.
  • You warn customers before automatically renewing their subscription or other paid service agreement.
  • You tell customers when they are eligible for a free upgrade or benefit.
  • You remind customers if they haven’t claimed something they’re entitled to (the balance on an outstanding rebate or gift card, for example).
  • You advise customers if they are buying too much of something, paying more than they need to, or the product might not be right for them.
  • You recommend a competitor’s product or service to a customer if it will better meet the customer’s needs.

2. Do you allow customers to post reviews of your products or services on your company’s website, to be seen by other customers and prospective customers? All these statements must be true:

  • There is an easily accessible tab or location on your website where customers can read, post, and comment on ratings and reviews of your products or services.
  • You do not provide rewards, rebates, or incentives for positive reviews or ratings.
  • None of your employees or contractors ever use "sockpuppet" IDs to post reviews on your site, or any other site in your category.
  • You never contract with third parties to generate reviews.

3. Are employee compensation, incentives, and accountabilities aligned with encouraging customers to trust your business? All these statements must be true:

  • Incentives for salespeople, executives, and other employees are a deliberate balance of short-term performance and long-term results.
  • You measure non-financial indicators of customer sentiment such as CSAT (customer satisfaction) or NPS (net promoter score), and incorporate those metrics into incentives and accountability.
  • Your employees freely and enthusiastically report untrustable behaviors and policies at your company, and are actively engaged in helping to eliminate them.

4. Do you have the competence required to deliver a quality product or service? Both of these statements must be true:

  • All or almost all of your products are at least on a par with the quality and reliability of other, similarly priced products offered by your competitors.
  • You proactively follow up on poor service or mistakes with apologies, refunds, and make-goods.

5. Do you have the competence required to provide good customer service? All these statements must be true:

  • You are operationally capable of treating different customers differently, adjusting at least some of your service offering to different customer needs.
  • Your customer analytics system is capable of differentiating customers by their needs, and not just by their value to your business.
  • You can cite specific examples when customer analytics have been instrumental in improving actual customers’ experiences.

Laugh now if you want to, but within just a few years, no business within range of a smartphone will be considered a legitimate and worthwhile vendor if it cannot pass this trustability test with flying colors.

[Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock]

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