The ability to gain, build, and retain customer loyalty is a must in today’s hyper-competitive, ultra-connected business environment. Everyone wants to do business with companies they trust.
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 56 percent of U.S. survey respondents said they trust businesses, up from 20 percent in 2009. This means that companies that lack trust will quickly lose customers to the competition.
Check out our thoughts on customer focus.
Other trends are also contributing to the customer-company trust dynamic. Over the past few years, there has been a democratization of the customer experience, fueled by the social media revolution. Customers have more power than ever to voice their expectations and opinions to an extended net- work of friends and associates2. Additionally, the emergence of social networks has created greater transparency between companies and customers.
Consequently, companies need to take their customer experience to the next level; this means being more responsive and proactive, delivering consistently on brand promises, listening to customers, and acting on that insight. These are all aspects of customer trust.
Customer loyalty … elements of trust
Building and retaining customer trust comprises two intertwined capabilities: the intent to act in the customer’s best interest and the competence to do so. These come together to form the foundation of the customer experience.
The ability to create a customer experience that builds trust begins with customer intelligence. It requires taking information learned about customers—blending feedback and behavioral data and then applying analytics—and using those insights to proactively engage customers in a way that makes their experience better and more relevant over time.
One trait that does separate exceptional companies from also-rans is the level of trust they engender with their customers. Customers prefer to do business with organizations that have gained their confidence. As we noted on many occasions, customer trust is gained through two interlaced faculties: good intent and competence.
According to a Concerto Marketing Group and Research Now survey, when customers trust a brand, 83 percent will recommend a trusted company to others, and 82 percent will continue to use that brand frequently. While hardly anyone talks about the time you went above and beyond for a customer, you’ll certainly hear from the disgruntled ones if you failed to make a deadline or delivered a product that didn’t do what you promised.
Emphasis on service
The customer contact center is ideally suited to be the center of an organization’s trust efforts. Every contact— whether a call, email, chat, or social interaction—represents a moment of truth that can help to build customer trust or destroy it. For instance, a customer service representative who takes ownership of a customer’s problem and finds a way to resolve it helps to build trust.
Every time an interaction builds trust it also builds retention, loyalty, spending, recommendations, and, ultimately, customer value. Any interaction that damages trust also potentially reduces customer value; customers who lack trust in an organization are more likely to take their business elsewhere and recommend that their friends and associates do the same.
The customer trust imperative
The one constant that all executives seek for their organization are a competitive advantage. But as the widespread availability of high-speed networks has made it possible for companies of all sizes to compete on a global scale, it’s becoming more and more difficult for brands to distinguish themselves from the product, price, or even quality.
One trait that does separate exceptional companies from also-rans is the level of trust they engender with their customers. Customers prefer to do business with organizations that have gained their confidence. As we noted earlier, customer trust is gained through two interlaced faculties: good intent and competence.
In many cases, a company’s intent is often a great unknown until a customer experiences a moment of truth with that company. A moment of truth may come to the fore depending on, for example, how well (or poorly) an airline contact center agent helps a customer to track and reclaim his missing luggage.
Building loyalty through exceptional customer experience
One of the cornerstones of customer trust is customer experience. Because customers interact with companies across a myriad of channels—including voice, IVR, mobile, online, email, text, and social— they expect to have consistent experiences regardless of the channels they choose to use. Customers also expect companies to be able to follow their thread of interactions from one channel to another. This applies to all types of customer interactions, especially support.
Since customers increasingly use digital channels to conduct research about products or to resolve problems, the customer experience expectation bar continually climbs higher, often based on an exceptional experience with a customer experience leader like Amazon or Zappos. Regardless of the product or service—whether it involves shopping for auto insurance or applying for a home equity loan—Customers expect their experience to be simple and easy.
Ten steps to building customer trust
Listening to customers to understand their needs and preferences and then acting on those insights requires a carefully coordinated effort. Digital Spark Marketing follows these five steps for achieving a repeatable approach to gaining customer trust:
Acknowledge the long-term value that customers create
Communicate to customers regularly how important they are to your organization and how appreciated they are. Also, take the proper steps to measure long-term value effectively.
Companies should provide customers with online forums or other means for interacting with their firm, as well as with each other. This is another way for companies to demonstrate their transparency with customers.
In addition to gathering solicited customer feedback, it’s also important to analyze customer sentiment about a company and its
products that are delivered via interactions across all channels and touchpoints. This includes mining customer sentiments
that can be gleaned in a multitude of ways.
Deliver on what you say
Doing what you say you are going to do when you say you’re going to do it is crucial to building trust. Famous entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jim Rohn said,
One customer well taken care of could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.
Consistency goes hand in hand with providing great service built on solid trust. Internal expectations lead to external results. From a business perspective, consistency applies to every aspect of who you are and what you do.
Ensure a quality product or service, delivered on time, well executed, and reasonably priced. This is imperative for business survival. Demanding customers expect nothing less.
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any successful company. In today’s fast-paced business world, having a range of communication channels available such as phone, e-mail, instant messaging, fax, etc. is key to maximizing your ability to communicate effectively with customers.
Build a solid reputation
Potential customers and business partners will search for information about you and your business online. According to a survey conducted by Dimensional Research, 90 percent of respondents who recalled reading online reviews claimed that positive online reviews influenced buying decisions, while 86 percent said negative online reviews influenced buying decisions.
It’s crucial to manage your online reputation and establish an active social media presence, website and blog.
Transparency is another competency that should come naturally. So many businesses have trouble coming to terms with what it means.
Customers and clients are smart. They know when you’re up front or when they are told a mistruth. If honesty is the best policy, they’ll appreciate and admire you more when you admit to a mistake, rather than playing games or even worse, avoiding the topic altogether.
Don’t try to hide or cover up your errors. Address the issue directly, explain how you will handle it and share what steps are being taken to prevent the errors from occurring in the future.
Related: Whole Food’s Customer Engagement Using Social Media
Studies show time, and again, loyal customers are the aptest to tell their friends about your business, creating strong word of mouth marketing. And as we have said many times … word of mouth marketing is the most important element of any marketing campaign.
Related: How to Employ the Little Things to Build Customer Relationships.
Ensure a quality product or service
This means the top of the line quality, delivered on time, and with a fair price. This is imperative for business survival. Demanding customers expect nothing less.
Continuously improve customer support
A relentless dedication to improving systems and processes will not only make it easier for employees to interact with and support customers, but it will also lead custom- ers to trust that the company is capable of delivering what it promises. Robust analytics capabilities can help companies to learn more about their customers and to develop products and services in anticipation of customer needs and ahead of the competition.
Maintain robust voice-of-customer feedback
Companies should provide customers with online forums or other means for interacting with their firm, as well as with each other. This is another way for companies to demonstrate their transparency with customers. In addition to gathering solicited customer feedback, it’s also important to analyze customer sentiment about a company and its products that’s delivered via interactions across all channels and touchpoints.
This includes mining customer sentiments that can be gleaned from recorded conversations, chats, emails, and mentions about companies in social media channels since customers don’t always share their needs, preferences, and concerns with companies via surveys and other feedback mechanisms.
The bottom line
In any discussion about the company-customer relationship and building customer trust, it’s important to recognize that companies are run and operated by people and that people occasionally make mistakes. Most customers accept this. To lower the frequency of mistakes that can otherwise erode customer trust, decision-makers must ensure that the organization has the right people, processes, and systems in place to generate a high batting average for earning customer trust.
For companies to gain a competitive advantage, they not only need to give the appearance of being trustable by acting in customers’ best interest, but they also have to proactively demonstrate that they’re trustable by competently and consistently delivering on their promises. This can best be achieved by aligning the company’s interests with customers’ interests.
Trustability is the driver of everything that matters most, whether it’s retention, new customer acquisition, cross-sell and upsell, or employee engagement. Developing a deep understanding of customer needs and preferences and then acting on that information is essential in a time of unbending customer expectations.
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Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.