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Customer Strategist Journal
Innovative strategies for building more profitable customer relationships. Published quarterly online and in print.
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The Business Value of Customer Trust

Trustability: A Higher Form of Trustworthiness

Most organizations operating today think they're already customer-centric and are basically trustworthy, even though their customers would disagree. Seventy-five percent of CEOs think "we provide above-average customer service," while 59 percent of consumers say they are somewhat or extremely upset with these same companies' service. In one infamous study reported by Bill Price and David Jaffe, 80 percent of executives thought their companies provided superior customer service, but only 8 percent of the customers of those companies thought they received superior customer service. Being "trustworthy" is certainly better than being untrustworthy, but soon even "trustworthiness" won't be sufficient. Instead, companies will have to be trustable.

Look at Table 1 below, and tick down the list of policies a trustworthy company might implement, or the actions it might take. Most of these probably apply to your own firm, and all of them are clearly honest and straightforward. It isn't hard to imagine a customer-oriented company adopting these policies, and even being celebrated for them.


TABLE 1: Distinctions of a Trustworthy Company

1. Carefully follows the rule of law and trains people on its ethics policy to ensure compliance

2. Does what's best for the customer whenever possible, balanced against the company's needs

3 Fulfills all its promises to customers and does what it says it will do, efficiently

4. Manages and coordinates all brand messaging to ensure a compelling and consistent story

5. Uses a loyalty program, churn reduction, and/or win-back initiative to retain customers longer

6. Focuses on quarterly profits as the most important, comprehensive, and measurable KPIs


Each of these statements represents the kind of policy or action that would normally be undertaken by any company trying to do business honestly and professionally, right? Above board. By the book. For the most part, they are customer-friendly actions, tempered only by a company's own need to manage its brand and make a profit.

But trustability is a higher standard still. Rather than simply maintaining honest prices and reasonable service, companies will have to go out of their way to protect customers' interests proactively, taking extra steps when necessary to ensure that customers don't make a mistake, or overlook some benefit or service, or fail to do or not do something that would have been better for them.

To see the difference yourself look at Table 2 (page 49). Compare the principles of a merely "trustworthy" company with those of a company that can be designated as having high "trustability." How will the higher standards of Extreme Trust be applied? Try another self-assessment to find out.

Although most of today's successful companies implement many if not all of the policies and actions on the left side of Table 2—that is, trustworthy policies—the vast majority of companies' actions would still not be considered trustable, and only a very few companies have implemented the policies found on the right side of Table 2. Trust, yes, but Extreme Trust? No. A company might be scrupulous in its ethics, completely honest in its brand messaging, and highly involved in tracking its customer satisfaction, but will it be proactively watching out for its customers' interests? If it wants to succeed in the Age of Transparency, yes. Because we will all be more and more interconnected—never less—we will live in an increasingly transparent world, and trustability is the only competitive response a company can have. Trustability is not a fad. It will outlive all of us and our children.


TABLE 2: Trustability Is the New Standard
20th Century—A Trustworthy Company

1. Carefully follows the rule of law and trains people on its ethics policy to ensure compliance

2. Does what's best for the customer whenever possible, balanced against the company's needs

3. Fulfills all its promises to customers and does what it says it will do, efficiently

4. Manages and coordinates all brand messaging to ensure a compelling and consistent story

5. Uses a loyalty program, churn reduction, and/or win-back initiative to retain customers longer

6. Focuses on quarterly profits as the most important, comprehensive, and measurable KPIs.

 

21st Century—A Trustable Company

1. Follows the Golden Rule toward customers and builds a corporate culture around that principle

2. Designs its business to ensure that what's best for the customer is financially better for the firm, overall

3. Follows through on the spirit of what it promises by proactively looking out for customer interests

4. Recognizes that what people say about the brand is far more important than what the company says

5. Seeks to ensure that customers want to remain loyal because they trust the firm to act in their interest

6. Uses customer analytics to balance current profits against changes in actual shareholder value


Everybody's talking about trust these days, and many use trust as a synonym for what we might call "reputation," or "regard," or "popularity," or "familiarity." Brand equity like this is valuable and worth pursuing, but it's not the same as "trustworthiness," any more than fresh paint and a freshly mown lawn can reveal whether or not a house has a solid foundation.

Some of the best books on business and personal relationships have been written on the broader subject of trust. These books—even just the really good ones—are too numerous to mention here, but we do want to acknowledge the works of Stephen M. R. Covey, Charles H. Green, and a host of others, and we suspect you've read at least some of them.

We also appreciate the work done by the Edelman Trust Barometer. In this book we will focus on why simple trustworthiness is no longer sufficient, and why a more extreme form of trust—trustability—will soon be the new standard by which consumers measure the businesses and brands they buy from. And then we'll talk about how companies must respond to this demand, if they want to remain competitively viable.

For the most part, the business authors who've written about trust in the past have developed their own taxonomies to catalog the various elements that make up trustworthiness, ranging from dependability and reliability to honesty and authenticity. In synthesizing these ideas and joining them to our own, we're going to suggest that the most direct way to think about trust is in terms of a combination of good intentions and competence. In other words, being trustworthy requires: doing the right thing and doing things right.

Peter Drucker referred to doing things right as "management." (That's the competence piece.) Doing the right thing? He called that "leadership," and that's the piece that's all about good faith, playing fair, and best intentions.

We'll be talking a lot more about these elements as the book progresses, as well as about the underlying foundations of organizational production, the sharing economy, rethinking managerial "control," the difference between intentions and actions, the mandate for hassle-free customer experiences, and a new way to think about what it means when a company creates value—and how that drives the need for Extreme Trust.

Mostly, if you want to succeed, you will need your customers to see you as reliable, dependable, credible, helpful, respectful, open, responsive, and honest. Whether you're any of these things or not, they'll still be telling their friends about you. You'll succeed when you generate ease of mind in helping your customers succeed.

Ultimately, our goal is to help you figure out how your business should adapt, as technology inevitably ushers in an age of extreme transparency. Extreme Trust is our answer. Being proactively trustworthy. Treating your customers just the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes.