By Liz Greene
A few weeks ago, I offered to help a friend paint and redecorate her master bedroom in a bid to surprise her husband who was away for the weekend. We chatted in our private Slack channel about our plans, what we would need, and so on. A few hours later, I received this text:
This was not an isolated incident. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen targeted ads on Facebook that clearly originated from keywords present in private Slack conversations. Keywords that never made it to Facebook or Twitter, keywords that were never Googled. It’s mildly disconcerting to say the least – and it’s made me extremely wary of Slack. It’s simple proof that targeted messages can backfire if you’re not careful.
Consumers are a lot smarter than they’re often given credit for, and they can be extremely cynical. All they really want from the companies they do business with is to know that they are trustworthy, honest, and real. You can ensure your business is trusted by championing two core concepts: transparency and respect. Carry these ideals through all aspects of your business, and you’ll both build and retain consumer trust. Let’s take a closer look.
Production & Supply
Supply chain visibility has become an essential component in building customer loyalty and trust. Both consumers and the media have taken a serious interest in how companies are producing, manufacturing, and processing the products they purchase. Today’s buyers worry about quality, safety, ethics, and environmental impact, and therefore want an exhaustive view of the systems and sources that produce and deliver goods. Companies that don’t offer complete visibility into their supply base can end up putting their brand reputation at risk.
It’s your job to know where all of your suppliers’ manufacturing plants are located, which safety and compliance policies they have in place, what their processes look like, and how their workforce is treated and paid. You’ll need to conduct frequent audits, evaluate their performance, and establish a regular reporting process. This not only keeps communication open, it also motivates your suppliers to identify and correct problems in order to keep your business.
A 2016 survey from Salesforce found that different generations credit different levels of trust to various sources of product information. Baby boomers put more trust in the brands themselves than millennials, who place their confidence in online reviewers. Younger generations value advice from credible, trustworthy peers, which is why businesses need to start putting more emphasis on actual people and less on traditional advertising.
However, when you do turn your focus to traditional advertising, there are a few things to keep in mind. Recent research from the Kellogg School of Management shows that customers find some marketing tactics inherently manipulative, such as using paid actors to give positive reviews, or stressing that a product will be on sale for a “limited time” only. On the other hand, third-party rankings, pledging to match competitors’ prices, or allowing customers to return a product for a full refund if they don’t like it actually worked to build consumer trust.
Bad things happen — it’s just a fact of life. When a crisis occurs in business, especially a crisis that affects your customers or suppliers, you have to face it promptly. Withholding information from consumers is an absolute no-no. Eventually it will come to light, and if they find out from someone else first, you’ll have an even bigger problem on your hands.
If you’re looking for an example, look no further than the Target data breach of 2013. Target discovered the breach on December 13th, and though they immediately informed the U.S. Justice Department, they failed to disclose it to the 70 million affected customers until December 19th. Unfortunately for the retailer, the hack had been revealed in a blog post by cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs on December 18th. Because of their failure to communicate with their customers in a timely fashion, Target lost customer trust. Their blunder raised lots of questions about the ethics of cybersecurity, and just how soon consumers should be notified of data breaches.
The lesson to be learned from Target is that, no matter what form the emergency takes, you can’t make bad news go away by hiding it. If/when something goes wrong, you must tell your customers right away. Communication needs to come from the top, be backed by physical action that ensure the problem is solved as quickly as possible, and supported by safeguards that are put in place to make certain it doesn’t happen again. These actions let your customers know that they can trust you and your team, count on you to get the job done, and be honest about any problems that may arise.
The way you treat your employees has a marked effect on your business. If you’re unkind to staff, berate them, condescend to them, or abuse them in any way, that treatment carries through to your customers. When employees are unhappy, unfulfilled, or disengaged, they don’t serve the company’s customers well. And poor service or a bad attitude from employees will not only cause a customer to leave and never come back, it’s also likely to damage your business’s reputation.
Trust is at its most fragile when customers encounter a problem. If they receive prompt, helpful, and memorable customer service, they’ll think of your company forever in a good light. In order to engender that kind of service from your employees, you have to treat them with kindness, empathy, and most of all, respect. When your employees know that they’re valued, they’ll go out of their way to take care of your customers and your business.
Consumers are smart – they know when you’re being truthful and when you’re lying. Honesty really is the best policy, and it comes to play in all aspects of your business. From supply to marketing to personnel, customers appreciate and admire you more when you’re honest, transparent, and respectful.
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Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.