Think of a brand you love -- one you'd trust with your personal information, recommend to your friends, and loyally choose over a similar brand. As an entrepreneur in a skeptical market, creating that sense of trust takes an ongoing commitment to integrity.
"The biggest challenge is the so-called fragility of trust," says Roderick Kramer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University. "Trust is hard-won and easily lost."
To build trust, your customers need to believe three things about your company:
1. You have their best interests at heart.
2. You are capable of delivering on your promises.
3. You are honest and authentic.
To earn loyal customers who trust your brand, try these three techniques:
Related: Why Should Your Customers Trust You?
1. Focus on doing your job well. "Most companies worry far too much about whether or not they are trusted," Kramer says. Instead, spend your energy delivering on what you've promised. "Management has to be committed to ′walking the talk′ in every transaction," he says.
At Dwolla, a web-based payment network, founder and CEO Ben Milne doesn’t worry about communicating trust. Instead, he puts his energy into delivering the best product possible. "If I have to start [telling people to trust me], then I’ve done a really poor job to begin with,″ he says.
2. Be transparent about mistakes. People naturally prefer to hide mistakes, but you want to be as direct and open as possible. ″Any sense of secrecy, concealment, or dishonesty will undermine the public’s trust," Kramer says. When you make a mistake, own up to it immediately, share what you’re doing to correct it, and follow through.
A few years ago, Dwolla went down for a few days -- an eternity in the tech world. They explained the problem in real time on their blog, sharing what happened and how they were working to fix it. To their surprise, everyone responded positively. ″People just want to know what’s going on," Milne says.
Dwolla encourages the same transparency in its employees. To make sure every potential problem gets attention, they’ve created a culture of total honesty. "When [an employee] makes a mistake, the first thing is not to hide it," Milne says. "We’ll immediately find you a team of really smart people to help you solve it. You won’t get fired." Employees are empowered to own up to mistakes without fear of retribution, so they feel comfortable putting the customer’s needs first.
3. Stay vigilant over time. Building trust is not a one-time deal, you have to prove yourself every time the customer uses your product. "Trust-building and maintenance take vigilance and sustained effort," Kramer says. "Once you have it, you can’t rest on your laurels."
If you’re wondering whether the effort is worth it, think of it this way: Delivering on your promise is your business. If you don’t deliver, Milne says, "there’s no tagline that fixes it."
Related: Secrets of the 10 Most-Trusted Brands
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.