By Paul Morin
Trust plays a very important role in business success. It plays an important role in success in most parts of life, but here we’ll focus on business success. The title of this article refers to “sustainable” success, as it is possible to have short-term success without trust, however, in the long-run, if trust is lacking, it will be tough to maintain success.
What is meant by “trust” in this context? Simply put, trust as I am using it here refers to the belief that someone or some company will deliver on an expectation or on what they’ve promised. Notice that it does not refer just to human beings; trust also applies to companies, brands and other types of non-human entities.
Where there is a great deal of uncertainty or a large knowledge gap, trust is even more important. Take automobile repair, for example. Unless you have experience in that area, it’s unlikely that you have much knowledge about how your car actually works, or what makes it malfunction. So when you have a problem with your car, you need to take it to a mechanic. Chances are that before you call a mechanic, you’ll ask a few friends to find a mechanic they have used, and more importantly, that they trust. The knowledge gap is so wide that the mechanic could tell you almost anything is wrong with your car and you would not have much technical basis for assessing the validity of their assertion. Instead, you’d have to rely very heavily on your “gut instinct” and your trust of the source of the assertion.
This situation repeats itself across the business world. No one can be an expert in everything, so when they need to buy a product or service that is outside their area of expertise, they want to be able to find someone they can trust. They want to be able to trust that person’s, or that company’s, knowledge and their “integrity.” That is, they want to do their best to deal with someone or some company that is competent and that won’t try to “rip them off.”
The most common way for consumers and businesses to try to get a comfort level with this trust factor, is to look for “social proof.” They try to get the opinions of other people they already trust who have used the products or services of a particular provider. If those trusted sources give the provider a “thumbs up,” then the buyer has a higher confidence level that they too can trust the provider. This is the reason you’ve seen so many third-party rating services pop up. It’s also the reason that you see so many reviews and testimonials on companies’ websites. These provide additional third party validation of the trustworthiness and capabilities of the provider. By the way, this is also the reason that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has placed so much scrutiny and regulation on reviews and testimonials — if they are “fake” and cannot be trusted, the whole process and system of social proof is undermined and compromised.
So, if trust is so important, what can you do to build your trust-“worthiness” and that of your company/brand in the marketplace? Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
1. Do what you say you are going to do. This is basic, but missed frequently.
2. Do not over-commit, so you cannot do what you said you were going to do.
3. Have a medium- and long-term perspective. If you want success over the long run, you cannot look for the quick hit or to maximize how much you make from someone every single time!
4. Be patient. Realize that trust is built over time, not overnight.
5. Treat everyone well. Don’t be selective about who you treat well. That is tantamount to insincerity and will be sniffed out very quickly by most everyone.
6. Show empathy. You must show empathy to those with whom you interact. And importantly, it must be sincere. If it’s an act, it will have the opposite effect of what you’re looking for.
7. Help people without expecting anything in return. I often say we live in a “quid pro quo” world; it’s all about give and take. That said, go out of your way to help people, even if you don’t know if there’ll be any reciprocation. At a minimum, it will come back to you in the form of trust.
8. Remember that the customer must be satisfied. Even though it’s pretty obvious that the customer is not “always right,” they do believe that they are. As the service (or product) provider, you need to make sure that they are satisfied. If they know you will always do this, they will trust you, your company and your brand, which is the foundation of a long-term relationship with that customer.
9. Leverage the trust you’ve developed. If you’ve done a good job for someone, don’t be shy about asking them for referral business! Typically, unless there are competitive motivations (not wanting a competitor to enjoy your fine product or service), they will be more than happy to send business your way.
10. Don’t do anything to betray their trust. Once you work so hard to build up trust with your customers and other key constituencies, don’t do anything to betray that trust! Don’t put yourself in conflicted situations, whether they’re “black and white” or even “grey areas.” As one of my early and favorite mentors told me, “If it’s grey, stay away.”
Do everything you can to build a trusting relationship with your customers, clients and other key constituencies. Then, do everything in your power to honor, protect and build on that trusting relationship. What took you a great deal of time to build, perhaps even years, can be destroyed very quickly if the other party believes that your decisions or behavior are not consistent with the trusting image you’ve built in the marketplace. Once it’s destroyed, it may be “near-impossible” to rebuild, at least with many members of your key constituencies. As the saying goes, “guard it with your life.”
How has trust played a role in building your company and with the experiences you’ve had in the business world? Please share.
Paul Morin is the founder of CompanyFounder.com. Morin has worked with various entrepreneurial companies in senior management roles and has led the development, review and selective implementation of several hundred start-up and corporate venture business plans, financial models, and feasibility analyses. You can e-mail Morin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published: Dec 9, 2011