We all live our lives on promises. From the time a child can grasp the concept of “cross my heart and hope to die,” there is a forever realization that
anxiety can be only reduced through proof of trust while waiting for a promise to be kept. From “Scout’s honor” to “I do” to “…the whole truth and nothing
but the truth” we seek cues that allay our worries. Lifeguards, the bus schedule, and the spotlessness of a hospital room are all obvious artifacts of
promises waiting to be kept.
The world of work has many forms of promises waiting to be kept. We recollect the evident power of trust when we see brand names that have attached
guarantees to their offerings–FedEx, Domino’s Pizza, Hampton Inn, Nordstrom and L.L. Bean. And, we sense its subtle power when the hotel finds our
reservation; the newspaper is on the front porch; and the bank statement is completely accurate.
But, one shade of trust often overlooked on the palette of reliance is the power of authenticity. Genuine offers customers confidence; proactive realness
signals a deep interest in a relationship filled with trust. A brief case in point.
The reception on the other end of the phone was flat, functional and pedantic. My wife was trying to get the required code to put on the form to authorize
the return and refund of a $12 item that was not at all what was promised in the online description. As an attorney, she is clearly no stranger to
bureaucratic legalese. Finally, in desperation she asked the call center rep, “Are you a real person? Or, am I talking with a computer?”
Customers today are starved for sincere, authentic experiences. Fatigued by too many online interactions devoid of humanity, they long for a little more
compassion even at the expense of a little less convenience. While they do not seek a return to the elevator operator, soda fountain clerk, or even bank
teller as the gatekeeper of their funds, high tech without high touch has made service too often spiritless. Why shouldn’t it be fun to use the ATM? What
is inherent in a digital channel that precludes a sense of sincerity, joy and occasional merriment. It is time for a shot of Leddy’s-like service.
Trust-Full Leddy Style
M.L. Leddy’s is an upscale western wear store in the historic Stockyard’s section of Fort Worth. The store has been in the same spot since 1922 and calls
itself a “handmade Texas legend.” The worn wooden floor covered with antique rugs give the appearance many, many people have visited. The photos on the
wall give you the feeling that Leddy’s might have provided clothes for customers with names like Masterson, Holliday, and Erpp.
Real starts when you cross their threshold. You are warmly greeted by salesman, John Ripps, who confidently introduces himself expressing sincere gratitude
for your visit. John knows repeat customers—their facial expressions of “I’m home” always give it away. Your first clue that this is definitely his day job
is his sharply focused questions enabling him to quickly zero in on your precise interests in men’s wear. He is warmly frank about what looks good (and not
good!) on your torso; surprisingly candid in his experience and expertise with certain fabrics and colors. You rapidly surrender all defenses as you
realize you are obviously in the caring hands of a pro.
John takes your measurements with the pizzazz of a master tailor on Fifth Avenue, New York–pains taking patience, obvious respect and professionalism mark
his accomplished manner. Two days after any purchase customers get a handwritten personal note always mentioning something the customer did or said. When
your tailored clothes are ready, you are likely to get an excited call: “Partner, your pants have been finished and they are truly gorgeous!” If he makes
an error, John is boldly honest.
The Anatomy of Trust
The trust gap cannot be avoided when a promise to customer is made or intimated; it can only be managed. The trust gap is the emotional space between hope
and evidence; between expectation and fulfillment. Insecurity and doubt are not required features of the trust gap. But, requiring customers to walk on the
high wire of faith is clearly an inescapable component of every service encounter.
As customers, our journey across the high wire of faith is a trip with or without anguish based only on the net of trust the service provider ensures is
there to support our passage. Customers’ perception of that “net of trust” makes all the difference in how they grade their experiences. No net, no
loyalty; shaky net, no loyalty. The critical concept is the fact that it is the customer’s perception that tells the tale. No matter how much an
organization believes they create and sustain a “you can trust us” approach, it is what customers believe that counts.
Trust is born of Leddy’s-like authenticity. We trust another when we perceive his or her motives are unadulterated and credible. Think of the goal as
realness-in-motion. Start with an inviting, pleasant expression. Greet customers like you are sincerely glad to see them. Communicate enthusiasm for the
privilege of being of service. Look for a way to provide an early honest non-patronizing compliment. Reveal something personal about yourself, especially
something that your customer may not know. Create the beginning of a genuine connection and it will spark an animated exchange customers see as believable.
Customers trust people and organizations that repeatedly and sincerely demonstrate they truly care, not superficially interested. When Nordstrom joyfully
allows customers to return merchandise that disappoints, it is proof Nordstrom cares more about the worth of the relationship than the economics of the
transaction. If you buy a defective computer from Dell Computer, they send you a replacement computer and box to use to return the defective one, not the
other way around.
Trust in all relationships begins with risk–the gamble that experience will not fall short of expectation. Trust is gained through encounters that meet or
exceed hopes. These two facts insinuate that the sooner customers get irrefutable evidence they made a good bet, the faster trust occurs. This is why
successful automobile sales people follow-up immediately after the customer takes delivery on a new car. Follow-up is more than an antidote to buyer’s
remorse; it is an assertive reminder that a strong and caring trust net is under all future encounters. Placing “guarantees” in the brand promise plus
customer-friendly return practices can accomplish a similar role.
Excuses like “I did my part,” “It’s still stuck in operations,” or “The system is down,” may assuage our guilt, but it only serves to remind the customer
there is no net they can count on. The manner an organization manages the trust gap drives every other component of the service encounter. It starts and
ends with the measure of degree the customer feels there is a real person driving the encounter and not a robot!