Trustability: The New Normal for Business

Consumers demand trust.Don Peppers, author of Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, kicked off his presentation at DemandCon’s Boston event this week talking about “Zuckerberg’s Law of Information Sharing.” Don’t worry–I didn’t know what that was, either, so don’t feel badly if you’re clueless as well. In a nutshell, Zuck’s law posits that every year, we double the amount of information we share online. I see how that might be accurate, what about you?

Time will, it most definitely will tell. Anyway, back to Peppers and his presentation on Trust. His basic premise: today, from a consumer standpoint, the more we interact, the more trust we demand.

As consumers, trust is an easy concept to grasp. Trust makes interactions more efficient. The more interactions we have, be they with other people, with businesses, or whomever, the more transparency we see. But for businesses that are, typically, not in the trust business, this isn’t so easy. Businesses are used to telling consumers what they want them to know with a goal of getting them to behave in a certain way—most likely to buy something. Having the tables turned on them often makes businesses a little twitchy.

More and more, consumers are holding the cards. Before they buy, they want to know they can trust you. And they’re not willing to take your brand messaging at face value. Trust isn’t exactly a new concept, but when it comes to consumers and how they think of brands, it boils down to just two things: does your company have good intentions and how is it that you’re going about the process of getting me to buy.

Peppers did a great job of explaining to the audience the reality that consumers now rule the purchasing process. They make their decisions based largely on how they feel about you and your brand. And because of this rising demand for trust, more and more companies are going to find that the only effective way to interact with others–and certainly the only way to get them to buy from you–is to figure out a way to get them to trust you. And then to act, even after the sale, in a way that amplifies that trust.

And That’s Where Trustability Comes In

As consumers, in addition to good intentions, we’re likely only going to trust a company we believe is competent—a company that can deliver what they say they can deliver. And competence? Well, that’s all about doing things right. Good intentions are about doing the right thing. Funny how that works.

So, today, there is a new standard required of businesses, and it’s one that’s completely customer-centric and customer-driven.

In a world fueled by social connectivity and the seemingly infinite reach of the Web, it’s no longer enough to refrain from cheating or deceiving customers. In fact, customers expect you to be proactively trustworthy…and this? This is called “trustability.” Trustablity is, quite simply, doing the right thing and doing it proactively.

Business Today, Inherently Untrustable?

Businesses inherently untrustable? Shocker, I know. But it’s probably not a stretch for anyone to agree with Pepper on the point that many of today’s business models are built on models that make everything about them inherently untrustable. Let’s take a look:

-       Credit card companies. Where good customers, the ones who pay their bills in full and keep their debt managed aren’t, in the brand’s eyes, their most valued customers.

-       Mobile telecom companies. Where one company is pretty much the same as the next, all happy to take your money and let you languish on a plan that’s not at all suited to your usage and needs—they just want your money. A great example of this is anyone who has ever had a teen rack up a huge bill related to text messaging (and perhaps being on the wrong data plan) and the unsuspecting parent not finding out about it until the crazy big bill arrives.

-       Service agreements. You know, those things salespeople try to sell you after you’ve already spent a bundle on a new TV, a washer and dryer or some other big ticket item. Peppers suggested that the next time a salesperson suggests you buy their service agreement that you look them in the eye and say “would you buy this” and see whether or not they’re able to look you back in the eye and tell you that they would.

-       Gift cards. Gift cards are a retailers’ delight, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they often go unredeemed. So, instead of a consumer making a purchase at your store and taking the merchandise away with them, they purchase a gift card, which may never be redeemed, so you get their money and “sell” nothing in return. Super sweet.

-       Retail banks. Retail banks are notorious for not having customers’ interests in mind. Everything from monthly service fees to exorbitant overdraft fees, or excessive loan rates, little that retail banks do is with the best interests of their customers in mind.

See? Many businesses today are actually built on the untrustable model. Their purpose is, inherently, to take advantage of their customers whenever and wherever possible. Totally stinks, doesn’t it?

How to Execute on Trustability: Go to Extremes

In the business environment, extreme trust often requires reducing short-term profit to gain long-term value and it’s something that some businesses have already figured out. Peppers gave some great examples of companies who are totally nailing the trustability thing.

Amazon: For us Prime members (and who doesn’t love Prime?), when you go to purchase a book you’ve forgotten that you already own (yes, it happens), Amazon sends you a warning that goes something like this: “Hey, you’ve already purchased this book—are you sure you want to buy it again?” Extreme trustability. Sacrificing short-term profits for long-term value.

iTunes: The iTunes customer experience, overall, is another example of extreme trustability in action, much like the Amazon scenario above.

JetBlue. A company that’s no stranger to accolades about doing things the way they should be done, Peppers gave a great example of JetBlue’s practice of extreme trustability in action. He was on a flight that was delayed for five hours. Upon deplaning, the weary travelers were greeted by a flight attendant who distributed a document detailing the refund they were entitled to. She accompanied that memo with the simple explanation: You’re entitled to a full refund for this flight and we apologize for all the inconvenience. Don’t worry, we know how you booked this flight, we know how you paid for your ticket and we know how much you paid for your ticket. We’ll refund it and you’ll be all set. Imagine that! Not making customers go through hoops to get something they deserve as the result of an inconvenience suffered at the hands of your business.  Think there’s a reason that JetBlue is so beloved by their customers—absolutely.

You Can’t Un-Pee In the Pool

One other point that Peppers made that I thought worth mentioning. While some companies, like the examples given earlier, are inherently untrustable, others are opportunistically untrustable (that just sounds nasty, doesn’t it?) One example he used was AOL, which made a lot of their profit by tricking their customers into paying higher fees and making it very difficult to quit the service. GoDaddy does the same thing with regard to domains you register. They make it easy for you to register and then make the process of transferring a domain so painful that you stay, not because you like the brand, but because it’s a massive hassle to move away from the brand.

There were recent cries in the online space about the opportunism of Uber when, during torrential rainstorms in major cities, they charged a premium for their car services because they knew they could. While it’s arguable that it might cost more to have drivers out in dangerous conditions, there were many who felt as though Uber was taking advantage of customers who desperately needed their services, the services they’d come to rely upon and trust, in a time of great need.

The reality is that consumer perception is consumer reality, so whether it’s true or not that Uber acted opportunistically in the instance of extreme weather conditions, the opportunity for damage to the brand reputation remains. Those kinds of behavior on the part of brands go a long way toward impacting not only trustability, but also your entire brand reputation and integrity. Is it worth it?

As Peppers so aptly put it: It’s like taking pee out of the pool. Once it’s in there, you can’t take it out. Brands must realize that you can’t un-Google yourself, so when you screw up, you have to be willing to deal with consequences that can, in many instances, be very public. So you can be like JetBlue or Amazon and do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do—and do it at the cost of short-term profits—or you can take advantage when you can, because you can, because the short-term profit is more attractive to you and your brand than long-term value and customer relationships.

How Do We Get to This Extreme Trust Thing?

Getting to extreme trust is really pretty simple—it all comes from empathy. Want to know how to do that, you just apply the principle of reciprocity (or maybe even The Golden Rule): treat customers the way you’d like to be treated. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It really is that simple.

When this is the culture of your company, it drives everything.

Empathy is a deeply human instinct. So, when you’re focused on how to integrate trust into your business operations, think of empathy as the ultimate form of customer insight. Treat your customers the way you’d like to be treated–in every instance. And it’s exponentially better if you can learn to do that proactively, not reactively.

But good intentions and empathy aren’t enough, competence matters, too. And you’ll have to tune for Part Two of this post to see why. And if you got this far, thanks for hanging in. I don’t often write blog posts this lengthy, but Peppers’ presentation was so compelling that I thought you might enjoy it as much as I did.

Oh, and in part two of this post, where we’ll talk about competence, I’ll embed the presentation for you to check out if you like—it’s all kinds of awesome. What do you think about trustability? Does it matter or is this just another industry buzzword?

Photo Credit: purplejavatroll via photopin cc

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    Love everything about this article. And when I was thinking trust, I wasn’t thinking of un-peeing in the pool. So true – one drop of pee is my lemonade is enough for me not to drink.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Tinu. Don’s presentation was fabulous, it was so great to see him do his stuff.

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    Can’t wait to see the next post about it.

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    Pepper has been saying this for decades, but we’re still talking about trust as something on a checklist, like “once you can produce trust, you’ve won”

    Of course people buy more from people they trust. This was the norm before the Mass Century (the anomaly of one way mass media, supermarket and big box stores fueled by capital going into mass production of everything). Now that we are catching up on two way channels, those of us who grew up in the last century are “discovering” listening, conversation, engagement and trust like they are new invention.

    Our great grandparents would laugh at this. Back in the day, if Sam Drucker at the Hooterville general store wasn’t trustworthy, he wouldn’t be alive long. He didn’t gouge on prices or play tricks on his clients.. he likely was related to them!

    1-1 is the only goal that makes sense. Get to know the individual you do business with.. regardless of corporate structure or policies.

  • ShellyKramer

    You are absolutely right, Warren. Trust isn’t new – it’s the way our parents and grandparents did business. With the general store down the street, with the neighborhood butcher shop, with the milk man who had the keys to your back door so he could deliver the milk. Then, somehow we evolved from a society where trust was implied, and expected, to one where businesses did their damndest to rip people off. And if people were too stupid to know any better, they deserved it. Crazy, isn’t it?

    I’ve not heard Peppers’ rhetoric before, so it was new for me. And while what he’s talking about isn’t new – to me or to you – I think to many businesses, their CEOs and senior leaders, it is new. And a concept businesses had best get their arms around.

    1:1 is the way to do it. It’s not new. It hasn’t changed. People treating customers they way they’d like to be treated. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’m with you. Thanks for coming by – I love your gray matter. (and I don’t mean your hair).

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    haven’t hear Peppers before? Surely you’ve seen the 1:1 series???

    I’ve been a fan since the first book came out. Subscribed before they were online and been sharing it for literally decades.

    Envious that you got to see the newer presentation :)

  • ShellyKramer

    Apparently I live under a rock!! He was great. I’m writing another post as a follow-up (soon) and embedding the preso, you might like clicking through it!

  • http://warrenwhitlock.com/social-media-expert Warren Whitlock

    buy a couple of 1:1 books.. the first was my favorite, but they were all good

  • http://lovinggodandman.blogspot.com/ Matt Stephens

    Absolutely fantastic. Short-sightedness is, lamentably, far too commonplace in the business world. And it takes far more than slogans, mission statements and lists of stated values to rectify this prevalent mindset within an organization. It takes actual buy-in by everyone in the organization, from top to bottom.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m with you, Matt. 100%.

  • http://blog.forthmetrics.com/ Hugh Anderson

    Great post, Shelly. Trust isn’t new, but where it breaks down it is more publicly flogged and I think in some cases there has been a moral breakdown that has exacerpated feelings of mis-trust in general. I had a rant about it myself earlier this year – http://wadds.co.uk/2013/03/24/guest-post-the-trust-transformation-for-communicators/ – so you can add UK banks, energy companies and politicians to your list!

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL! Thanks Hugh … appreciate the share — and the list additions!

  • Benoit Wiesser

    Spot on, been banging that very drum for a while. This will become all the more critical in the era of big data, as brands that consumers trust to let them in deeper and in the most valuable parts of their lives will win out, and win big!

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m with you. Completely. Those who get it will reap the benefits, too

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