Most would agree that trust is critical to establishing, building, and sustaining positive and value-based customer relationships. It is the connective tissue that holds customers, brands, and enterprises together; and, without trust, these connections would quickly dissolve.
Trust is also at the core of customer focus and customer centricity. Winning trust means creating rapport, understanding what’s important, communicating openly, and providing what customers want from an emotional, as well as a basic competence, perspective. Increasingly, driving perceived value and successful relationships with customers will require that organizations take a more proactive, inclusive, and human-centered approach. Keeping that trust means providing proactive, consistent delivery. It means going the extra mile to exceed customer expectations, so that the investment in faith that customers have made is justified.
Consumer trust isn’t a vague or abstract concept. It’s real and it monetizes. Trust is the key factor that drives customer loyalty, and repeat business, so has quantifiable bottom-line impact. Though trust can be seen in long-term engagements, most companies begin by looking at what results from the transactional tactics they take with customers. Before shaping customer relationship strategies, this is a good place to start. Here are some useful, basic guidelines.
1. Focus Employees on Creating Positive Customer Interactions, Whether Purchase or Service-Related
2. Ensure That the Customer Feels Heard, Understood, Valued and Respected
3. Set Customer Expectations – The Experience Should At Least Meet the Promise
4. Ensure That Employees Understand, and Represent, Your Company Values As Ambassadors
5. Evaluate How Cost Management, Especially in Service,Will Affect Your Customer
This last guideline often receives insufficient attention, but it deserves to be put under a microscope. Most customer service operations are, historically, viewed as costs of business, rather than profit-generating centers; and, in one of the last remaining vestiges of re-engineering, organizations are always looking to see where they can cut service costs. Especially where customers are concerned, there is a big difference between cutting costs and managing them for optimum effectiveness. What customer-centric organizations never do is undermine service quality or its ability to drive downstream behavior. A company lives or dies by its reputation, and quality of services is a significant component of its reputation, often at least equal to product features as a barometer of customer-perceived value.
Consumers today are constantly sorting, emotionally and practically, between alternative vendors, endeavoring to identify which engender the most belief and trust. And, stated simply, the more emotionally engaged a consumer is with a brand or company, the higher will be the level of loyalty and advocacy behavior. This has been proven again and again in industries around the world, and the causation and correlation can always be seen in the marketplace.
Much of what shapes consumer trust is driven by an emotional connection, or personal alignment, with the enterprise. And, much of what shapes the enterprise culture is set and accomplished by senior executives, who are what Max De Pree termed “servant leaders” to the stakeholders. This creates a dynamic and continuously evolving situation where the employees and customers sit atop the organizational priorities pyramid.
Service and customer behavior expert Ken Blanchard was recently quoted on this subject: “Your people need to know what business you’re in, where you’re heading, the values that will guide your journey, and your goals. Responsibility lies with top management to establish these guidelines and be sure people understand them. Once everyone understands the leadership part of servant leadership, you can turn the pyramid upside down. As a leader, you now serve your people and are responsive to their needs. This is the servant part of servant leadership. Now your people are empowered to bring their brains to work and do things the way they think they need to be done—within the guidelines that have been set. It’s not a free for all. It’s guided empowerment where (employees) know they can be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer.” So, employees are both creators and enablers of consumer trust.
Trust and emotions are also all about humanizing business processes, and creating experiences which add both differentiation and unique value. Increasingly, business is getting the message that, for trust to be earned, customers must be heard, understood and respected. Customers expect this, and trustworthy enterprises make this a core strength and element of their mission and vision. For the future, trust won’t just be a strength, it will be essential to survival.