Indicators of High Trust
So how do you know you have achieved high levels of customer trust? What are the indicators? Here are three:
1. Customers or prospective customers ask for you by name.
Customer: “OK, Mr. Salesperson. I will sign the contract on one condition—Sammy Sampson is assigned to my account.”
Customer: “If you assure me that we can have Connie lead the implementation like she did the last time, I am ready to commit.”
2. You have such a strong personal brand that people seek you out for speaking engagements, writing articles, or special client assignments. When you are really good and a professional worthy of trust, you will be asked to do things beyond your job description.
Customer: “Sammy, I have a big favor to ask. Would you come speak at our tech managers meeting next month? I think they would find your insights valuable.”
3. You can have a ponytail, wear Hawaiian shirts, make the (occasional) smart comment, and executives still love you! When you have earned trust, you have earned the right to look and act a little differently, if you so choose.
Customer (said with broad smile): “Sammy, when are you going to cut that thing off! After seeing you, my boy wants to grow a ponytail.”
Here are some realities about trust to keep in mind:
Trust is earned, not bought. You can’t print the words “Trusted Advisor” on your business card and expect people to believe it. In fact, many people would consider it boastful, manipulative, or assuming. Trust is something customers bestow on those they feel deserve it.
Let me share a relevant example: I had a client wanting to expand into professional services. The need was present and the possibilities looked bright. However, research with existing customers squashed the initiative. Here is a customer response that captures the importance of trust and shows why we slammed the door on the initiative: “I don’t care how smart your people are! You can’t even deliver decent support today. Why would I trust you with more important services?”
Building trust takes time. Think about people you trust in your personal life. How long did you know them until they gained your trust? Weeks? Months? Never? It is the same in business situations. Interestingly, although it may take years to build trust, it takes only seconds to lose it. Hence, you have to safeguard it like a miser would protect a strongbox full of pieces of eight.
The amount of trust required varies according to the situation. Think about trust in terms of yourself. If your barber or hairstylist is on vacation, you might at random pull into a hair salon close to your office and trust that a stylist will do at least a decent job. The amount of risk is low.
If you had a mild toothache and your dentist was unavailable, you’d probably accept the word of a friend and set up an appointment with a dentist she recommends. The amount of risk is greater, but if you trust your friend, the chance of a bad outcome is probably low.
However, if your general practitioner says your blood test shows the possibility of a rare, possibly deadly disorder, the level of trust you need to take action has shot to the top. You will most likely make an appointment with the specialist your doctor recommends, but you will probably spend hours online not only researching the disease, but also the qualifications of the top specialists in this field. Even then you may want to get a second or even a third opinion before acting. It is not that you don’t trust your doctor; it is that the potential risk is really big, and hence, more effort and caution are needed.
FLASH POINT: The more important the service is to the customer and the higher perceived risk, the greater your level of trust must be.
Your role and position automatically impact customer trust. We all make subconscious decisions based upon our past experiences that shape our initial levels of trust for different roles. For example, although there are thousands of high-integrity salespeople deserving of trust, almost everyone at some time in their life has come in contact with low-integrity, highly manipulative, blood-sucking sellers. So if you are in sales you have to double down on your trust-building efforts. That is just the way it is.
But it is way different if the customer knows you are a service guy, because service guys don’t make commission; they are there to do what’s best for the customer. They trust you much more than the sales guy or his boss or the fellow from marketing. So enjoy your trusted status but don’t flaunt it. Guard your trusted status by being careful that all your recommendations are in the customer’s best interest.
Trust goes both ways. Before you get carried away and mount a full-frontal, trust-building attack on all your accounts, remember that just like the tango, it takes two to dip and dive without falling on your face. Sometimes customers see a situation as of little importance, so they don’t see trust as an issue. Some customers see all suppliers as easily replaceable vendors providing easily replaceable commodities. Your trust-building efforts with these customers will be a waste. However, some customers want relationships and will invest the time and money that yield mutual trust. That is where to focus your trust-building energy.
Want to learn how to build trust faster? Read “Brilliant CX: Compressing the Cycle Time of Trust” and “Trust is a Must.”
This article is an excerpt from the book The Brilliant Service Professional: Building Trust, Creating Value, Having Fun by James “Alex” Alexander.
 Rent the movie “Tin Men” with Danny DeVito for an excellent and funny example of salespeople at their worst.