In September 2015, Volkswagen was exposed as having systematically cheating on emissions testing. It tanked its own stock, boosted competitors’ sales and opened the company to a flood of lawsuits, all of which weaken it in the long run. Not to mention being skewered by late-night comics.
Trust takes a lifetime to build, as they say, but only a fleeting moment to destroy.
Examples of corporate breaches of trust are plentiful:
- The collapse of Enron
- The British Petroleum spill in the Gulf of Mexico
- The aforementioned Volkswagen fraud
When a business puts short-term profits over long-term market integrity, the results are always disastrous.
Surveys have confirmed that when a customer believes that a business is hiding something, she will minimize the business relationship or end it. The core question is: Does my customer truly believe that I am working in her or his interests?
A customer simply must believe you are trustworthy for your business to succeed. Does the customer believe that you are hiding the truth, or anything, from him? The costs of hiding truth are far greater than any form of transparency.
Trust Is the Path to Not Just Sales, But to Loyalty
Transparency makes the most business sense, as we have demonstrated here before.
Think of how nervous many of us are when approaching a used car dealer. We fear the Lot Lizard salesperson that will say anything, do anything, conceal anything, to move a car off the lot and get your money, only to disappear on you later.
How many of us are uncomfortable signing or clicking “I accept” when confronted with a maze of technical language in a service agreement? We fear being exploited later, so we may balk at the last minute and refuse the transaction. The trust isn’t there. Customers want a company that will talk straight and do right by them.
Trust is the lifeblood of your business. Trust between you and your customer is the cornerstone of loyalty. Your customers must see you as dependable, credible, responsive, open and respectful.
But these values must be lived, not just declared; otherwise they are just noble intentions at best and false advertising at worst.
Regaining Customer Trust
Rebuilding your firm’s good name will take time but it can be done.
Understand the dynamics of your position. Fears, whether justified or not, are lethal to your brand. Fear trumps facts. Emotions run rapidly to wild conclusions. Does my daughter’s Bubble Yum have spider eggs in it? A reputation can be maimed by mere rumor. Unfair, but true. Mark Twain noted that lies run all the way around the world before truth can get its shoes on.
- The first thing you can do is apologize. While this isn’t strictly legal advice, it can be sound. Often people just want to know that someone is sorry for what happened to them. The usual response is “deny and defend,” but apologies can defuse the emotions that fuel lawsuits. But apologies can go a long way to avoiding costly disputes and rebuilding reputation. When confronted by revelation of misconduct, rationalizing, minimizing and justifying just deepens mistrust.
- A second step is to reassure. A wrong-doer in your entire industry can ruin your reputation. If tainted by scandal in your industry, get out in front of the issue by explaining on your website why your organization is different. Use social media to do this as well. Try to do this quickly. Recognize the speed at which grievance travels in the electronic world and don’t delay, or you may appear unconcerned, another nail in the coffin of trust. Explain in detail your steps to correct the problem, if there is one. What procedures or guidelines will be enacted and enforced to prevent a repeat of the misdeed?
- The last step is to educate your customers. Create an FAQ on your firm’s website.
Devote prime space on your Facebook page or company site to explaining your steps of resolution. Not every mistake need be a PR fiasco if you apply these corrective steps.
Remember: if you create trust for your customer, your customer will return that trust with loyalty in the form of a consistent cash flow. And beyond any profits, real service to your customer means creating something that can’t be measured: sincerity. The first chapter of a book on business advice would have to be about honesty.
CHB Associates has expertly coached many businesses through understanding how to maintain and nurture trust. Call us today for a free consultation.