How to Engender Trust With Your Customers

What do you think of when you are told, “trust me on this …” and then your interlocutor goes on to share the “facts” as they see them, oftentimes smothered in hyperbole, and more often than not the facts turn out to be pseudo-facts. The key is, they used the word “trust” as if it was a guarantor that the information which follows is the gospel.

The reality, trust is much harder to achieve than just having me or anyone else tell you that you may trust us. The famous sales guru, Zig Zigler, accurately points out, “If people like you they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.”

And every company exists to provide goods or services, and to engage in commerce.

Let’s Look at What Constitutes Trust

Two primary traits jump to the forefront: character and competence.

While we often hear ‘high moral character’ being ascribed to an individual’s persona; the same holds true for companies. Does your company project caring, transparency, and openness with their intent? Intent envelopes so much of what a company drives to achieve.

In doing so, do they also provide evidence of their intent by their actions, high degrees of honesty, fairness, and authenticity? If your customers are calling BS to product claims, or you’re told your products contain more promises than results, aka “vaporware,” you’re failing on the character side of the equation.

The second attribute -- competency -- is where the rubber hits the road. Does your entity have the capability to achieve what they say they are achieving? No vaporware? Looking at both the employee base and product suites, are you projecting the skills required for the engagement? What of knowledge? Thought leaders present? Experience of personnel and company roadmap? What do the experiences encompass?

Furthermore, under the competency rubric, do your products do what you say they are going to do? And what is the reputation of the products and/or personnel? The old adage, “one aw-shucks, wipes out 100 atta-boys” still applies.

President Reagan famously stated in 1981, “Trust, but verify,” and while his remarks were within the context of US-USSR relations, the advice holds true with every company who wishes to be considered trustworthy.

Open the doors to having your technology challenged, and demonstrate through transparency and openness the credibility of your personnel and the products they create.

How’s it Going in Industry?

The most recent Pew Research Center report titled “The Fate of Online Trust in the Next Decade” (August 2017) shows there is a significant space for every entity to make improvements on how they project themselves, so as to engender the trust of their customers, clients and partners. 

Pew’s “nonscientific canvassing” produced six major themes:

  • Trust will strengthen because systems will improve and people will adapt to them and more broadly embrace them.
  • The nature of trust will become more fluid as technology embeds itself into human and organizational relationships.
  • Trust will not grow, but technology usage will continue to rise, as the “new normal” sets in.
  • Some say blockchain could help; some expect its value might be limited.
  • The less-than-satisfying current situation will not change much in the next decade.
  • Trust will diminish because the Internet is not secure, and powerful forces threaten individual’s rights.

The Pew report, though insightful, projects equal doses of optimism and fatalism. On the optimistic side of the equation, those who provided commentary expect cybersecurity to continue to advance and users to become more adept in their adoption of advanced security technologies.

The expectation that trust will diminish and the individual will continue to be hammered is not unfounded, however. Entities have exposed consumer information through poor cyber hygiene, as evidenced by the avalanche of breaches which have occurred over the past 24 months. Such is the depth of data exposed the question from the average consumer may more appropriately be: “What about me hasn’t been exposed?”

What Can Companies do to Project “Trust?”

Take the challenge facing your company to heart and embrace the opportunity to put the nay-sayers to bed, and reward the optimists.

First step, is to assign a Chief Trust Officer. Charge the individual with responsibility with engaging the partners, clients, and customers, and ensure with each engagement the company’s character and competence are evidenced in a demonstrable manner.

Second step, is to push down from the C-suite the expectations on trust, individual character, and competence, and hold the individual accountable for those areas for which they are responsible.

Lastly, and perhaps, more importantly, the Chief Trust Officer must listen. Listen and take the concerns of these three constituents to the rest of the C-suite leadership.

Trust me on this - without trust, you have no customers; without customers, you have no company.

Be a company that all can trust.

About Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost - Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century (Syngress, March 2008).