"Customer trust is down." You've seen plenty of headlines like that, especially in banking. But what does it really mean?Have companies become less trustworthy? Are customers less willing to trust them? Perhaps it's both. Assuming someone cares about customer trust, what are they supposed to do about it if the problem isn't clear to begin with? Rebuilding trust starts with thinking differently.
It takes two to tango
We use the tango metaphor to remind us that for some things in life, more than one party is involved. It turns out trust is one of those things. For trust to exist, one person has to do the trusting, and the other has to be trusted. And just like leading and following are different in tango, trusting and being trusted are very different roles.
The one who does the trusting - let's call him or her the trustor - is the one who takes the risk. The one who is trusted - the trustee - is the one who is considered trustworthy.
Trust happens when the trustor makes a decision to rely on the trustee, despite the risk that the trustee might violate his trust. In tango, the dance may fall apart if the woman doesn't follow well - but it can equally fall apart if the man doesn't lead properly. So it is with trust. Let's look at trust in sales for an example.
The tango of sales
In selling, the customer is the trustor, and the seller is the trustee. The seller wants the buyer to trust them, and so must appear trustworthy. The buyer has to be willing to take some risk, i.e. make a decision at some point in time.
The seller, wishing to appear trustworthy, can focus on the "hard" aspects of trustworthiness - credentials, testimonials, track record - as well as the "soft" aspects - empathy, listening. (Most B2B sellers overemphasize the hard side of trustworthiness). But they are limited by their view of their role in the dance of trust.
In dancing, the roles of leading and following are fixed. It would seem that, like dancing, the roles of seller and buyer are very clear: Sellers should focus on being trustworthy, and can't do much else to help buyers in their role as trustors. In trust, however, these roles can constantly change. In fact, they have to.
The best way to make someone trustworthy
You may know the phrase, "The best way to make someone trustworthy is to trust them." It has a lot of truth. People tend to live up, or down, to the expectations of others. The urge to reciprocate good for good (and evil for evil) is strong in human beings. If you extend a hand and a smile to a stranger, you are likely to get back a hand and a smile.
This suggests a powerful way for sellers to help their customers trust them: In addition to being trustworthy, try trusting your customers.
There are many ways you can begin to trust your customers. Give a penny, take a penny is a very small retail example, but you can scale the idea, too. Try offering more free information. If someone asks a question (e.g., "how much does it cost unbundled?"), answer it. If you don't offer a feature, say so. Make more information available on your website. Offer guarantees, no questions asked. Give out free samples; give out free advice.
It takes two to trust. So don't settle for saying "trust is down." Figure out what you can do about it. Maybe it's being more trustworthy; maybe it's getting better at trusting. Maybe it's a little of both.
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About the Author: Charles H. Green is founder and CEO of Trusted Advisor Associates