Getting customers, clients and employees to trust you can be complicated, but it is imperative for success -- perhaps more important than sales. If you get others to trust you, it's easier to grow and nurture your business and give everyone excellent service. But trust is fragile. If you lose it, it's very difficult -- if not impossible -- to restore it.
So, where do you start with this trust thing?
Trust is mysterious and often elusive. No one can tell you exactly where it originates or how it develops. The trust process is incomprehensible. You can't fake it. You can't go through the motions or pay it lip service.
I know firsthand how puzzling trust is. As soon as I think I've wrapped my head around trust, the inexplicable, elusive belief floats away. Quite frankly, I've found that it's often easier to mistrust than trust. That makes me angry since that's like being guilty until proven innocent -- the opposite of our legal system.
Along the way, however, I've found seven concrete actions that build trust in a business environment. These actions build trust through communication, commitment and competence.
1. Demonstrate that you trust others.
One way to do this is to be generous and forgiving when someone else makes a mistake or disappoints you in some way. People who always jump to the worst conclusion about a person’s competence or motivation inspire wariness, not trust.
Most people don’t set out to be mean or stupid, so give them the benefit of the doubt until you have contrary information that proves you wrong. You'll feel better about them, and they'll trust you for your generosity.
2. Create relationships that are mutually beneficial.
Customers, coworkers and employees all want to believe that they are making the right decision to work with you. This takes a lot more than clichés and platitudes. Customers should clearly understand the value of your products and services to them. Likewise, employees should feel good about taking ownership, which introduces an added measure of accountability and demonstrates the level of trust you have in them.
In other words, trust is about showing people that you care about them. In turn, they will care about and trust you.
3. Directly address issues.
Ruffled feathers are inevitable in any relationship. How you deal with concerns and problems is what instills trust and loyalty. In the course of a busy business day, it's easy to get distracted and become disconnected with what's happening on the front lines.
Customer trust develops from the first contact and extends through service delivery, implementation, care and support. At each step, you can either damage or enhance this experience for your customers. That's why it's so important to deliver on promises if you want to be trusted.
If you want people to trust you, you have to care. Address complaints fast. Share information. Gain their confidence. Exude pride and passion about your business. Resolve conflicts quickly. These actions separate you from the pack, while also building and maintaining trust.
4. Tell the truth.
Let's say that one more time for good measure -- tell the truth.
Never assume that certain people can’t handle the truth. Be as honest with your employees and customers as you expect them to be with you. If you get caught in a lie, no one will trust you. You don't often get a second chance to make a first impression, so don't count on it.
Keeping your promises is also a part of telling the truth. Don’t commit to a promise you can’t deliver. Think about what’s realistic, and do your best to live up to your word.
5. Be flexible and patient.
Be tolerant of mistakes, and don’t be an inflexible judge. Meet the other person in the middle. Be considerate of events and negative experiences that may have affected one’s ability to trust. Make exceptions to the rules when common sense dictates. Consider unusual alternatives for problems that can’t be resolved by typical methods.
Remember, trust is built over time, especially when you deal with someone who isn't fortunate enough to have experienced trust in his or her own life.
6. Respect their time.
I believe that people in our society are losing their sense of civility, courtesy and respect. To get people to trust you, you will be well-served to raise your awareness of other people’s time, personal schedule and needs. This means you should:
- Promptly return phone calls
- Promptly reply to emails and thoroughly address all points raised
- Be on time for meetings, and log on to a scheduled call two minutes in advance of start time
- Hold fast to estimated call end times, and inquire if attendees are free to keep going
7. Deliver the unexpected.
The best way to deliver trust is to surprise and delight clients and customers. Give them what they asked for, but on top of that, deliver more -- more service, more time, more convenience and more sensitivity. Delivering more than they expect goes a long way and adds real value and trust. As a bonus, customers will tell others about how you delivered more. This should net you more business.
I wholeheartedly agree with George MacDonald, the nineteenth century Scottish author and poet, who said "To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved." In business, that's the kind of compliment you can take to the bank.