In January the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer was released (see details here http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/trust-2013/). Each year this global research firm looks at attributes that lead to trust – a critical factor in building customer loyalty. They look at it across countries, across business and government, and across a variety of industries. The top five trust-building attributes as ranked by the over 31,000 survey respondents are instructive for companies that want to grow their business. The surveyed customers indicated that a trust-worthy business:
1. Offers high quality products and services. 63% of the survey respondents cited this attribute as a very or extremely important factor in building trust. The shocking part of the study, though, was that only 41% of respondents scored a specific company they were familiar with as performing in the top two boxes for this attribute. I’m certain that all the companies referenced in the study would proudly tout the high quality levels of their offering. The challenge is that internal measurements of quality and customer perceptions of quality can be two entirely different things. To succeed with your customers, you must understand their perceptions, and as closely as possible, match your internal measurements to the way your customers see the world. They are the judge and jury and they will vote with their wallet.
2. Listens to customer needs and feedback. 62% of survey respondents cited listening to customers as a very or extremely important factor in building trust. What process does your business have in place to systematically listen to feedback from your customers? If you don’t have a process in place, get one this week. Even in complex, contractually-driven business-to-business relationships, customers have options and are willing to exercise those options. Nothing will align your company and set you on a growth track quicker than your employees hearing directly what customers have to say.
3. Treats employees well. This was #3 on the list with 61% of the survey respondents citing it as a very or extremely important factor in building trust. Many studies have confirmed the connection between employees who are empowered in the work they deliver and the loyalty of their customer base. If you think a customer can’t tell how you treat your employees, you’re wrong. Customers can sniff out in a couple minutes if your employees enjoy what they do and are empowered to do it to the best of their ability, or not. Don’t be deceived. If your employees are mediocre, the experiences your customers are having will be mediocre, at best.
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4. Places customers ahead of profits. 59% of respondents cited this item as very or extremely important in building trust. This one is interesting in that this is largely a function of customer perceptions. The reality is that a company who has built strong trust and loyalty with their customer base will naturally generate more profits. The trick is all in how that is done. If customers sense they’re being taken advantage of or not provided with premium levels of support, their perception will be that your company is placing profits ahead of customers and it will erode trust. The key here is having the right employees, building empowering management systems around them, and then allowing them to show up each day to do their best for their customers. This is naturally motivational for employees and has the side benefit of creating positive experiences with your customers… all of which result in incremental business profits.
5. Takes responsible actions to address an issue or a crisis. For 58% of the respondents this item was very or extremely important in building trust. There are key moments of trust for your customers – when a shipment arrives late, when an implementation goes poorly, when a customer service representative is asked to process a product return. It’s in these brief moments that companies create or destroy value. Making your company intentional and even proactive in these moments will put you ahead of your competitors very quickly. In large, complex business relationships things will go wrong. Accept it. The issue is not whether or not something went wrong or to whom blame should be assigned, but rather what you are going to do it about it now that you are aware of the problem. Do you accept responsibility and do everything in your power to make things whole for your customers? Or do you try to affix blame and obfuscate reality to avoid some cost? These are the kind of critical business decisions that are not taught in MBA school. They are taught in the school of character, and the lesson plans usually call for some pain and hardship. I had the honor of working for a CEO who had a mantra that the organization would do the right thing for customers because it was the right thing to do. That company has a long history of extraordinary success… and I believe that kind of leadership is a large part of its success.
Take time to evaluate these five areas in your business this week. How would your customers score you? How would they score your competitors? What changes can you prioritize this month to get a little better than last? Starting to answer that last question is the key to building a company that is continuously improving and constantly building loyalty with its customers.