Trust has been called “the social currency of business.” It’s the prerequisite for any transaction. If your business doesn’t have trust, it doesn’t have customers -- or employees, for that matter.
But in the developed world, building trust as a company is an uphill battle. You can blame the media for the image of the soulless corporation or the sleazy door-to-door salesman, but the fact remains that less than half of the general public has a positive view of businesses. And that’s when times are good. Throw a couple of scandals into the mix, and less than 20 percent of people expect business leaders to tell the truth.
Luckily, this perception doesn’t have to be your reality. You can earn the trust of both your employees and the public, and it doesn’t have to take years to do it. Here are two key strategies any budding business can employ to foster trust within its brand community:
1. Build trust from the inside out.
Building trust always starts with your most valuable asset: your employees. They’re the face of your company -- the ones doing all the servicing, selling and handshaking to keep you afloat. But if you’re not careful, they’ll feel lost as you scale. While you’re the pilot “cruising” at 30,000 feet with a bird’s-eye view of the business, they’re the ground technicians who find it difficult to see past the task in front of them.
Spell out a career path for these ground-level employees to give them a stake in your company and improve retention.
For example, my property restoration company developed classifications for the different trades we employ. Each trade has a series of grades -- from basic to advanced -- with clearly specified certifications required for each grade. This kind of upward mobility has proven to be very motivating for our employees.
Dell is another company that’s established employee rapport. Through its advocacy program, more than 10,000 employees directly answer customer questions, write blog posts, generate leads, etc. Dell even publicly recognizes its best advocates. With this program, Dell successfully shifted the focus from its products to its people.
2. Ramp up the speed with which you win trust.
Once you’ve established internal trust with your employees, they can project that trust onto your customers.
Studies show that people form first impressions in a tenth of a second. That means your employees don’t have time to "fake it until they make it." If they’re cynical about your company, that will show. They have to be "all in" from the first moment.
Every single day, my company performs restoration for homes and businesses damaged by man-made or natural disasters. We get called in at our customers’ lowest moments -- when the toilet overflows, a kitchen fire ignites or the roof gets ripped off. They’re vulnerable, and they need someone they can trust. The first step is to empathize with them and say, “I’ve done this before. I can make it better. Trust me.”
Your organization has to make that sale every single day -- no matter how fast it gains momentum. Mars candy is one company that excels, in this way, at leveraging consumer trust. The company does this by starting with one customer at a time, treating every individual sale like its most important one. This strategy has established a sense of trust among its customers and fortified the company’s lasting power.
In a skeptical world, your customers are not looking for just the best or cheapest widget. They’re looking for authenticity. So, be good to your employees, honor your customers and they’ll both reward you for it.