Over the past few weeks, the media has been buzzing about the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer study (details here). It measures and reports the level of trust the general public has in entities like corporations, government, even friends and family. Some of the results are unexpected, such as the rise globally in the credibility people see in messages directly from the CEO and the lack of trust people have in their “inner circle” social network.
Some have critiqued the study, others have praised it, but it’s hard to deny the fact that the last two years have shaken the public’s trust in business leaders, especially in the financial services, automotive, and aerospace industries.
Not surprisingly, this breakdown of trust has also happened in business-to-business relationships. Organizations worldwide are doing more with less. Fewer resources often leads to declines in quality and delivery performance as well as less interaction with key customers.
The end result? Less trust.
And, of course, in business-to-business relationships trust is critical to loyalty, growth, and profitability. When channel partners, distributors, or OEMs can’t trust their suppliers to provide the products and services they need to meet the needs of the end user, both the bottom line and the future relationship suffer.
If your customers have lost some of their trust, the business impact – in both the short and long term – is significant. So how do you build (or rebuild) customers’ trust?
In the work we do with our clients, it happens in four steps:
Address and resolve current issues
Address the issues that you know your customers are already facing. Building trust without meeting your customers’ core needs is impossible, so allocate time and resources to resolving the most pressing issues. For the issues you can’t solve in the short term, communicate your long-term issue resolution plans to your customers.
Proactively listen to your customers
Collecting feedback from customers does two things: first, it lets you solve problems that you may not have known about, secondly, it reinforces the fact that you’re working with your customers, not against them. This builds trust because you are making a concerted effort to listen proactively instead of merely reacting to issues. When possible, the most effective way to emphasize these messages is in a face-to-face setting.
Act on your customers’ feedback
Taking targeted action on what your customers tell you may seem like common sense, but it’s not always common practice. Make your follow-up steps – taking action and communicating – part of your comprehensive plan for collecting the feedback. Align the appropriate resources, instill accountability, and be diligent. Your customers’ trust depends on it.
This is the step that builds trust. Listen, take action, and let your customers know what actions you’ve taken as a result of their feedback. And if you can’t solve all their problems, tell them that too. Demonstrate that you heard what they said and that you’re making efforts to help them. Just taking action isn’t always enough; you need to make it clear to your customers that they can trust you to improve.
These four proven steps can put you back into trusted advisor or partner status with your customers. In the years to come, your customers’ confidence will be a differentiator.
Now is the time when your customers’ trust can be rebuilt. What are you doing to rebuild it?
Nick Wassenberg, Research Analyst