Small Business and Startups: Cultivate Trust and Nurture Loyalty

Trust is a key for driver for your customers. Do they trust you to produce a great product? Do they trust you to deliver a reliable service? Do they trust you with their money and their time? Establishing trust with your customers takes time and consistency, but it also takes data and transparency. Companies rely on the trust they build with customers over time and there are many things a business can do to nurture and develop that trust over time.

There are many things a small business can do to build a strong relationship with their customers, but it must start with three key elements: consistency, transparency, and respect. These are the foundational elements of personal relationships and, as customers, are equally important to our relationships with the businesses we patronize. When a business is honest and transparent their communications with us we tend to think of them as dependable and reputable. And when a business listens to our concerns and responds to our issues, we view them as trustworthy and credible.

So what can a your business do to engender trust with your customers? A good place to start is by making it easy for your customers to talk to you; make sure you are available hear from them by whatever means they find to their liking: make yourself available by phone, by email, in social media, by instant chat, and in person. Work to promote these channels and to make them as visible as you can. Make it easy for them to give you suggestions, complain about problems, leave you compliments. And then (most importantly) respond. What good is a complaint if your customer doesn’t know that someone is listening? What good is a suggestion if your customer doesn’t believe that it will be acted upon, let alone even considered? People want to know that they are being taken seriously and that they are respected and the best way to do this is through responsiveness – simple, clear, and fast.

Secondly, in business trust is built explicitly through honesty, integrity, reliability, and sincerity. But it is through transparency that those characteristics are implied. When your business changes a policy, or adjusts its pricing, or makes a mistake, take the time to communicate to your customers the why and the what. They may not like the fact that you increased your prices, but people rely on you to provide it through transparency and communication. They expect the truth and if customers feel that you are hiding something from them or being less than honest with them their level of trust will decline and the relationships that you work so hard to build will falter. If you position yourself as the honest broker your communications will carry weight, your opinions will be listened to, and your customers will come to view you as a reputable partner and reliable source.

Businesses that have a strong face-to-face relationship with customers can accomplish transparency by simply spending time with their customers, conversing with them and listening to what they have to say. Online businesses have a greater challenge because they may never have the opportunity to actually meet their customers in person. These businesses have to rely on other channels for communicating with their patrons. Emails, blogs, and newsletters are all important tools to use to make users aware of changes you might be making, problems you might be experiencing, or new features or offerings you might be introducing.

Trust, however, is a two-way street, and with certain businesses it is important that the customers or users are also viewed as reliable and trustworthy. Retail stores have long known that certain customer behavior can be indicative of a ‘problem.’ For instance, shoplifting is a major issue for many of these businesses and the best shopkeepers are adept at spotting potential thieves amongst the honest patrons. Likewise, many e-commerce companies develop capability to spot credit card cheats or other fraudulent activity. Reputation systems have long been used by online businesses and communities to “rank” users and to help other community members know who amongst them are the most dependable. A great example of this comes from one of my personal favorite online communities – Yelp. Yelp is a wonderful resource for finding a great restaurant, service, or business locally or when travelling. Why do I trust Yelp for its opinions on restaurants and other businesses? Because I trust their community of individuals who post the ratings and reviews that I am looking at. Is every single reviewer on the site deserving of my trust? Absolutely not and this is why Yelp is transparent in the way it shares data on the users themselves via a simple and visible reputation system; every single review posted is accompanied by the user’s name, the number of connections (or “friends”) they have on Yelp, and how many reviews they have posted in the past. Obviously I will take the opinion of a Yelper who has posted dozens or hundreds of reviews more seriously than I will the user who has posted just one or two; if I am picking a restaurant and it has lots of positive reviews by credible users there is a pretty good probability that I will like it too.

Photo: Israel Defense Forces