There are countless ways that companies build and break trust with their customers, but most can be summed up with the term honesty.
Janine Popick, CEO of the Inc 500 San Francisco based email marketing service Vertical Response, recounted this story from the very early days of her business. As a start-up she had very few customers, let alone very few big-name customers. So, the email marketing business of ACT! Software was significant.
ACT depended heavily on its email marketing campaigns to prospect and keep customers up to date with upgrades and training. Vertical Response’s servers had been experiencing technical issues and Popick worried about her company’s ability to continue to make ACT! look good if email delivery was spotty or sent incorrectly. Rather than crossing her fingers and hoping all went well she went to her contact, the marketing director at ACT!, and asked to be fired.
She explained the technical issues they were experiencing and suggested that another company might be more reliable at this point. The customer was so impressed with the level of honesty from Vertical Response that they remained a customer and a passionate voice of referrals for the company for many years.
In Popick’s words, “You know, I think more than anything, it’s about meeting people’s expectations. If something goes wrong we tell them what to expect, do exactly what we promise to fix it and communicate fully throughout the process, that’s what we’ve always tried to do,”
Honesty and trust can mean many things, but in business, certainly in the business of referrals, trust is one of the most important assets a business can build.
Trust is earned in by keeping promises. Tangible things like delivering on time, paying bills on time, honoring guarantees, and less tangible things like authentic marketing messages, caring service and a culture of respect.
So, quite often, trust is lost by overpromising. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t aim high, but I am suggesting you must do what you say you are going to do. It sounds so simple, yet it’s the number one reason people lose faith in businesses and entire industries.
When you have trust, developed by keeping your promises, you can make mistakes, own up to them and correct them without loss. In fact, it’s one of the hallmarks of a great businesses - they work harder on fixing mistakes than any other aspect of their business.
Of course, there are two sides the issue of trust, you must also extend trust throughout the organization. When you trust your staff, trust that you’ve attracted ideal customer and place trust in the strategic and supplier relationships you’ve built, trust becomes a part of culture of the entire organization.
The value of trust as a referral currency is somewhat dependant upon the importance a purchaser places on purchase – either in terms of human cost or actual cost. The higher the price tag, the more essential the service, the more a high level of trust is vital. But, even a company selling a $29/mo service will live and die over time on the level of trust it builds with its customers, employees and partners.
Think about your own experience, when was the last time your referred a friend to a business you kind of liked? Show me a business that automatically receives a substantial amount of business by way of referral and, with rare exception, you’ll find a business that places supreme value in building and keeping trust in every aspect of business.