If your customers do not trust you, they will not buy your products and services. Trust is a top consideration for consumers when making a purchase. 81% of people state that they “must be able to trust the brand to do what is right.” Trust is essential for developing a thriving business. It makes or breaks the value of securing a substantial base of customers over the long-term.
To reinforce this idea and to help you understand the benefits, we cover the key elements to strengthening long-term relationships with each of your customers. Thanks to the expert consultation of Jeannie Walters, CCXP, who is a specialist in the area of Customer Experience, Jeannie explains what brands need in order to achieve and maintain trust with clients.
Trust is a critical part of any relationship. We build relationships when we trust the other party, and when we have built enough trust with them. Little moments can build or break down trust quickly.
Has this ever happened to you? You make a new friend, enjoy their company, and then the red flags begin appearing:
- She is quick to say “I’ll call you tomorrow!” then never makes that call.
- She schedules nights out only to call and cancel at the last minute because she is “just not feeling it.”
- She reaches out, only for you to find out it is because she wants you to purchase the new health and beauty product she’s started selling as a side gig.
After a few moments like those, you learned not to trust her. You learned not to take her word seriously. The friend you have becomes a friend you had.
The same is true for customer relationships. Knowingly or not, some organizations train customers not to take their word seriously, then wonder what’s wrong as the customers they have become the customers they had.
Today, customers are looking for signs they can trust you. They want to know that you are acting with integrity. There are everyday patterns in organizations that can build those moments of trust for customers or break them down.
In more than a decade of speaking, workshopping, and consulting with organizations from small businesses to Fortune 100s, I have found five considerations to be critical to customer trust.
Five Considerations to Help Build and Maintain Customer Trust
1. Customer Trust is built by delivering on promises
Have you delivered on the promises your brand has made? This is the number one way to make or break trust.
Every organization wants to make grand promises. It feels good and can boost business in the short-term. But when brands set an expectation that can’t be met consistently, reality will catch up to them.
The promises you make may directly be about the products and services you offer, but they can also extend into areas more personal and critical: sustainability, employee advocacy, community impact. I asked my community on social media about their customer stories, and many shared how they are making shopping decisions based on these factors, even when they do not affect them directly.
This is, quite simply, about trust. Can I trust you to look out for the best interests of your customers, your partners, and your people?
Many organizations talk through their advertising and marketing, but talk is cheap. Customers are trusting those who are living up to their promises.
They are also calling out those who are not delivering. Beyond traditional word-of-mouth, those who feel let down by unfulfilled brand promises are using social media as a platform to share their experiences as a matter of “warning.”
To build trust today, revisit your promises and ensure the experience is meeting or exceeding them. If you cannot keep a promise, it is better not to make it at all.
2. Customer Trust is strengthened with consistency
Humans like knowing what they’re getting into and consistency is a way to help them feel comfortable.
Have you ever stayed in one hotel chain location and been impressed… only to visit another location that is totally disappointing in comparison?
Consistent experiences show the customer they can depend on your brand, instead of having to guess what each experience will be like.
Even if it is not the world’s best experience, there is comfort in consistency. A lot of travelers rely on the consistent experience of McDonald’s or Starbucks. That burger or latte tastes the same at an airport kiosk or a destination far from home.
On the other hand, inconsistency can have incredibly damaging effects. A bad experience doesn’t only make a bad impression, it has the power to invalidate previous positive impressions in the mind of the customer.
In today’s world, things change fast, and it’s up to brands to create consistency wherever they can.
When the Covid-19 crisis first led to social distancing in the US, Target Stores used a simple graphic to provide clear, consistent expectations for what customers could expect from their shopping experience. Note how the graphic stated all stores, which reinforced the consistent experience customers could expect: the response page for Target stores sets clear expectations for customers.
When customers have a single positive interaction with your brand, it gives them something nice to look back on. When customers have been shown that those positive interactions are predictable and repeatable, it gives them a reason to keep coming back.
3. Customer Trust is confirmed with reassurance
Reassurance is critical in any customer journey. It helps relieve anxiety and lets customers feel confident in their interactions with your brand.
How can you provide reassurance throughout the customer journey?
Consider how an e-commerce website can provide reassurance at the purchase touchpoint:
- Don’t let them worry if their credit card payment went through.
- Don’t leave the burden on them to figure out what they need to do next.
- Don’t add to their concerns with emails that are functional but lack emotional depth.
It doesn’t have to be complicated: “We thank you for your payment. Please know we’re working on your order right now! We’ll email you within 24 hours to let you know when it’s complete.”
A basic “payment processed” message is technically a reassurance, but what also a missed opportunity to provide warmth and gratitude.
Where can you integrate reassurance in your customer touchpoints? Seek out points of reassurance in your customer journey and develop them into meaningful moments designed to build trust.
4. Customer Trust is exceeded with proactive protection service
We’ve already established that trust is built on expectations being met or exceeded. One of the best ways to exceed your customer’s expectations is to provide proactive service.
How can you anticipate the questions and needs of your customers today? I recommend starting with a quick journey map.
Get together with your team and brainstorm the questions your customers have along their journey, then do what you can to proactively answer those before they need to contact your service line.
Having trouble brainstorming? Let your customers do the work for you! When a customer asks a question, ask:
- Has this question been asked before by others?
- Is this question related to a step in the customer journey that future customers will pass through?
- Does their question shine a light on something ambiguous or confusing that can be clarified?
If so, you know what to do: find an opportunity to include the answer within the customer journey.
There are many ways to address the questions your customers have before they ask them. Making answers easily available – whether a simple Frequently Asked Questions page or a complete, detailed resource center – can provide clarity for customers. Building answers to frequent questions directly into your communication implicitly tells customers that you understand them and where they’re coming from.
It’s not only your customers who stand to benefit, but your entire organization. Instead of repeatedly addressing the same questions, your support team can save time, which I’ve seen lead to significant financial savings.
This is a great opportunity to use customer feedback without having to reach out with surveys and questionnaires as well.
5. Trust is developed with transparency
We all want to work and engage with brands who have the expertise, but when it comes to building trust, there is power not being perfect.
When you are not sure of something, it’s okay to say “we don’t know.”
When something goes wrong, it’s good to say “we messed up.”
Brands who try to deny or sugarcoat the uncertainties of their industry and the world at large can be seen as disconnected from reality, or worse, dishonest.
Those that openly acknowledge that they’re not perfect, that like everyone else they are learning and improving as they go, build trust and a sense of community.
When we are transparent, those that interact with our brand learn that they do not need to be skeptical or cautious. They can rest assured our word is good, and we can move forward together with confidence.
To Recap, Customer Trust is:
- Built by delivering on promises.
- Strengthened with consistency.
- Confirmed with reassurance.
- Exceeded with proactive service.
- Developed with transparency.
How are you building trust with customers right now? How do you feel as a customer regarding your trust level with brands today?
The amazing thing about trust is that it can be built up and provide dividends over time. Creating trustworthy relationships with your customers today will serve you and them for a long time to come.
A version of this post originally appeared on Experience Investigators with the title How to Build & Maintain Customer Trust During Covid-19.
Originally published Jun 15, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022