The Business Case for Proactive Trustworthiness
This new standard of customer service – proactive trustworthiness – is already the objective sought by the most forward-thinking, customer-centric companies.
This is particularly true in the online space. For instance, if you try to buy a book that you previously purchased from Amazon.com, they’ll notify you that you already bought the book before moving ahead with the transaction. iTunes will also warn you if you already own a song you’re about to purchase. And JacquieLawson.com, the online greeting card company, will send you a notice before automatically renewing your annual subscription, just in case you forgot that your credit card is about to be charged.
In each case, the company is going out of its way to proactively watch out for customers’ interests. Sure, any of these companies could make a small profit from a duplicate sale to a customer. But each company recognizes the long-term value of being proactively trustworthy with their customers. Instead of being short-sighted and going after the quick sale, these companies are trying to build trust with their customers by doing the right thing. When companies develop trusting relationships with their customers – by doing the right thing and by doing things right -- they’re more likely to grow customer lifetime value and boost incremental revenue by generating favorable word-of-mouth recommendations from the customers they’ve pleased.
The reason being proactively trustworthy has become increasingly important has to do with the forward progress of technology. As we all become more and more interconnected through social networking and our use of mobile devices, what a company says about itself to customers through advertising and public relations won’t carry nearly as much weight as what customers say about the company to one another. Companies no longer control the conversation. Ubiquitously available interactive technologies and social media platforms mean that a customer is never more than a click away from another customer’s appraisal of a brand.
Social influence can have a meaningful impact on sales. According to a study by Cone Communications, a positive review by another customer about a product has confirmed a decision to purchase by 87 percent of survey respondents. Meanwhile, 80 percent of those polled say a negative review led them to change their mind about a purchase. (And don’t think that negative reviews aren’t useful. Statistics show that they actually correlate with a sale at a higher rate than positive ones! This is because a negative review, nestled in among a lot of positive ones, will tend to increase the positive review’s credibility. Honest reviews are important in building trust.)
This “always-on” interactivity creates a tremendous amount of transparency, making it much more difficult to keep a secret than before. So if your business makes money by occasionally violating a customer’s interest (charging a higher price than necessary or failing to notify a customer when a warranty period is nearly up), this behavior will soon be “outed” and your reputation will suffer.
Technology not only feeds into transparency, it also enables companies to establish and strengthen trust with customers. Consider the aforementioned cases with Amazon, iTunes, and JacquieLawson.com. In each instance, the company is able to quickly analyze customer transaction data to determine whether a customer has already purchased a product. Not only that, but these companies are conducting these analyses and alerting customers in real-time. Each company is using customer intelligence to act in their customers’ best interests and do so competently.
Business leaders are under tremendous pressure to meet business goals (quarterly earnings targets, monthly sales quotas). When executives make hasty decisions to do whatever is necessary to squeeze another sale from a customer without considering the customer’s best interests, they suffer from what Martha and I refer to as “short-termism.” That is, they’re acting to meet an immediate need without considering the long-term consequences of the customer relationship or the customer’s long-term value.
By contrast, companies that are proactively trustworthy with customers see the big picture. They are focused on nurturing healthy relationships with customers that can lead to greater long-term customer value, increased growth potential for the company, and higher shareholder returns.
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