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Give Them What They Want.

Give Them What They Want.

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Trust exercise - how to give your customers what they want

If you want to sell products and services and get repeat business, you need to create trust. Dean Evans, former editor of Techradar.com, tells you how.

In a nutshell
- Don’t make promises that your company can’t keep
- Customers will decide what is a quality product and what isn’t
- It can take years to build trust, but only days to destroy it
- Trust isn’t just driven by what you sell, but by how you act

Every business is different. No two products or services are the same. But whether you want to sell in London or Lancaster, Falmouth or Falkirk, there are key psychological drivers that remain the same. Customers value honesty and commitment; they demand quality and accountability. Above all, they want a business they can trust.

That’s the tricky part. There’s no magic trust card that you can play. Trust needs to be earned, one customer at a time. So how do you build trust?

In a recent survey by Rainey Kelley Campbell Roalfe, the AA was named the UK's most trusted brand (excluding charities), beating The Post Office, Boots, Google and Johnson’s Baby. Chris Jansen, AA chief executive, said: “The AA has been around for more than 100 years and has a proud tradition of focusing on our customers and members and delivering outstanding customer service.”

Make a commitment (and live up to it)

The AA embodies a long-held commitment to its customers and a quality service. Making its brand promises, which include ‘more dedicated patrols than any other UK breakdown service’ and ‘8 out of 10 cars fixed by the roadside’, is easy. But you can’t build trust unless you follow through on your promises. Customers trust the AA to fix their vehicles. That trust is shattered if it doesn’t provide a service that consistently lives up to it.

How to take action:

- Don’t rely on heritage: reputation is no guarantee of trust, past experience is no guarantee of future success.
- Start building trust by delivering a product or service that does what it claims to.
- Explain what you do, why you do it, and why you’re different.
- Provide demonstrations of what you do or sell - think product or service demos, videos, case studies, or free trials.
- Plan for disappointment. Do you have a process in place for dealing with unhappy customers? It’s important to know how you will fix problems, so that you can react quickly and intelligently before they damage any trust that you’ve built.

Quality is defined by buyers, not sellers

Customers want quality. They deserve it. Technically speaking, quality is about meeting customer needs and having products or services that are fit for purpose. But that’s a business definition. Ultimately, the customer will decide what is quality and what isn’t.

Innocent started selling smoothies in 1999. Its founders set up a stall at a music festival to test their idea. “We put up a big sign asking people if they thought we should give up our jobs to make smoothies,” says the company, “and put a bin saying 'Yes' and a bin saying 'No’ in front of the stall. Then we got people to vote with their empties. At the end of the weekend, the 'Yes' bin was full, so we resigned from our jobs the next day and got cracking.”

How to take action:

- Focus on creating outstanding products or delivering an unbeatable service. Analyse your competition. What do they do that you can do better? What don’t they do? What will make your product or service stand out?
- To a customer, a quality product is one that exceeds their expectations. It surprises them; it delights them by going that extra mile.
- Emphasise the quality of your wares by showing their popularity with existing buyers. Use certifications, customer testimonials, awards and good ratings where possible.
- Look at how you can improve an existing product or service to add extra value.

The battle for trust and loyalty never ends

While a quality product will build trust, delivering consistency and reliability is also a crucial part of the process. In its January 2014 customer satisfaction survey, the Institute of Customer Service interviewed 12,000 customers and ranked 181 companies for customer satisfaction. Amazon led the way with a rating of 88.6, followed by John Lewis (88.1), Waitrose (86.9), First Direct (86.6) and Pret A Manger (86.4).

Why do people trust Amazon? Because they can go on to Amazon, order anything from a book to a blowtorch, and be confident that they will receive it a few days later. Amazon not only satisfies a customer’s need but also makes shopping as easy, quick (and often as cheap) as possible. One good experience with Amazon leads to another. And another. A string of these good experiences compounds to build trust in the brand.

Amazon’s comprehensive returns policy further engenders trust. It is honest, fast and fair, with customers often able to get an immediate refund. In some cases, if a customer buys a product a week before it drops in price, Amazon will refund them the difference..

How to take action:

- Don’t be complacent. One bad customer experience can erode any trust or loyalty that has been built. It can take years to build trust, but only days to destroy it.
- Encourage loyalty. It’s easier (and more cost-effective) to sell to an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Loyalty card programmes have proved to be an effective way of retaining customers who already like and trust you. In addition, everyone likes to get something for nothing, so reward repeat visits. It works for big supermarkets like Tesco, as well as small coffee shops, so there’s a likelihood it will work for you.
- Can you give a generous guarantee? There’s no better sign that you believe in the quality and reliability of what you are selling. KIA’s seven-year warranty speaks volumes.

Customers expect excellent service

Trust isn’t just driven by what you sell, but by how you act. It’s a constant battle that begins every time you get a new customer. According to Jo Causon, CEO at the Institute of Customer Service, “In an environment where customers are more aware than ever about the standard of service they should receive, organisations cannot afford to lessen their focus on customer service.”

The good news is that modern technology makes it easier than ever to connect with customers. Twitter is the medium of choice for many companies, enabling them to keep customers informed, respond to queries/complaints, even show customers how to get more out of the products or services they use. The customer service team behind First Direct’s @firstdirecthelp is quick, smart and helpful, while accounts like BT’s @BTCare and the First Group’s @FirstBSA provide real-time service and bus journey updates respectively

How to take action

- Set up a twitter account to enable you to connect to customers in real-time. Today’s tech-savvy customers expect to be able to tweet a company and get a timely reply. Does your company live up to those expectations?
- Make sure that your Twitter account is published on your website and on company literature with the rest of your contact details.
- Keep customers informed if something goes wrong. They’ll appreciate the information.
- Be quick to say sorry if a customer has had a poor experience and ask them to contact you directly so that you can sort out their problem.
- You can offer quick fixes in Twitter’s 140 character content limit. For more detailed problems, use a tweet to direct them to more detailed information on your website.
- Use Twitter for feedback. Listen to what your customers are saying about you or ask them directly how you can improve.

Remove weak links in the supply chain

From sourcing to delivery, your supply chain must remain strong: one weak link can ruin a business’ reputation. The best companies carry out rigorous quality checks on everything they send out to ensure that it is up to standard.

As such, companies can uphold and even bolster their reputation by ensuring any materials they use are from sustainable sources or only buying fair-trade produce.

Delivery is another important aspect, with it being often the only time when the customer and company come face to face. Alternatively, if you use an external delivery service, you need to be certain that they are a good representation of your company.

Many supermarket chains deliver their own food, but Waitrose outsource it to Ocado, a company voted by Which? readers as the best online supermarket for the last 4 years. By entrusting delivery to Ocado, Waitrose can focus on other aspects of their business, secure in the knowledge that their products will be delivered on time.

How to take action:

- Ensure reliability. Examine your processes and understand where they are weakest and where they could potentially fail. Fix them.
- Make sure you know where your products are sourced and try to buy from environmentally sustainable sources.
- Find a delivery service you can trust. If you don’t deliver yourself, work out what company would suit your products best.
- Be rigorous. Make sure that you check everything you send out, ensuring that it is a good representation of your company.

Honesty and accountability matters

Trust is hard to come by these days. A cynicism forged by corrupt politics, horse meat in our food and the profits of energy suppliers, mean we are not as free with it as we once were. Companies like Seven Trent Water know that trust is crucial to a successful business. “Our reputation for integrity is perhaps our most valuable business asset. If we lose it, we also lose the trust of our customers and all those who work with us.”

Honesty can reap its own rewards and help to build trust. Fast food chain McDonalds has had its fair share of ups and downs, but it’s one company that has embraced honesty. In one famous example, McDonalds Canada didn’t duck the awkward customer question that asked: “why does your food look different in the advertising than what is in the store?” Rather than ignore it or spin it, McDonalds produced a behind-the-scenes video showing exactly how their food was photographed. You can watch it here:

How to take action

- Admit your mistakes and correct them as quickly as possible. Tell customers how you handle the problem and how you will prevent similar errors in the future.
- Make an apology if a customer is upset. Not a shallow delayed train sort of apology (we apologise for any inconvenience this may cause). That’s not an apology. It doesn’t truly say sorry as there’s no admission of responsibility. Be genuine. Be sincere.
- Give people a behind-the-scenes look at how your business works, what’s involved in bringing your product or service to market, perhaps even who some of your key personnel are.
- Don’t hide away your contact information. Make it as easy as possible for customers to contact you quickly and easily by email, phone, letter, or through social media channels.
- If you make any claims about the products/services you sell, make sure that they can be backed up by hard data.

The crux

Starting with a quality product or service, successful businesses concentrate on consistency and reliability, which enables them to make strong commitments to their customers. Successful businesses don’t duck awkward questions and don’t sweep problems under the corporate carpet. They are honest, approachable and accountable. Regardless of where you are in the country or where you operate, Businesses like this are the businesses that customers trust.