Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to Trust Your Customers

Sam Moon is a retail store in Dallas. When I was growing up it was a great place to go for good deals on accessories like earrings, purses, belts, etc. (It's still a great place to go). Every time we shopped there my friends and I would joke about how the sales people followed you around the store because they were afraid you would steal something. The sales staff didn't try to hide their suspicion of customers. I felt like I wasn't trusted and consequently it made me not trust the store. When the sales person told me the necklace looked good on me I didn't trust her. When the sales person told me the purse was real leather I didn't trust her.

Today I called to make a reservation at the restaurant Medieval Times in Dallas. The reservationist told me I must pay 100% up front for all parties, there were no refunds of any kind and I was only allowed to change my reservation once. It felt like a "gotcha" situation - like they didn't trust me to show up.

I understand that businesses must have policies in place to protect themselves from theft, piracy and fraud. There will always be customers who take unfair advantage of every situation. When Costco and Home Depot allow returns with no questions asked - you know someone is going to show up with a worn out "something" and ask for a refund. And we've all heard the story of customer service giant Nordstrom allowing a customer to return a used tire (they don't even sell tires!).

Trust your customers to jazz up your sales. Here's how:
  1. Don't use the term "company policy" to hide behind rules. The Medieval Times reservationist used this line when explaining why I had to pay 100% up front.

  2. Offer a free trial with few restrictions (the test drive theory).

  3. Listen first. Don't just listen - do it first. In his book The Speed of Trust Stephen M.R. Covey lists this as one of the 13 Behaviors of trust. When you are trying to make a sale it is natural to "pretend listen" while waiting to jump in when your customer is finished talking. Covey calls this "counterfeit listening." Listen first and it will tell you how to build trust.

  4. Spell out your guarantee. By doing this you are showing customers you trust them to hold you accountable for your claims. Know that you will need to stand behind your guarantee even when it hurts.

  5. Allow your customers to complain. Make it easy for them. Tom Egelhoff says to provide phone numbers (answered by real people), feedback email access and any other ways you can think of for customers to notify you when there is a problem. The longer it takes to resolve a problem the more potential customers will hear about this particular customer's dissatisfaction with your company.

  6. Give away something for free. In his book FREE: The Future of a Radical Price Chris Anderson says that the enemy of free is waste. When you give something away people feel compelled to use it. And the law or reciprocity will bring them back to you for other business.

  7. What seems to be a people problem is sometimes a situation problem. This concept is presented in Chip and Dan Heath's book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Your customer may trust you but not your company, product or industry. Several years ago I experienced a home remodeling job with a contractor who performed shoddy work and then skipped town with my money. Since then I have not trusted any person doing work in my home. It has nothing to do with the people - I have blanket mistrust of home building contractors. Figure out ways to create a situation where you are able to trust your customers.

  8. Recognize when people don't feel trusted. As long as a person is communicating with high emotion, he or she doesn't feel understood. And a person will not trust another until he feels understood.

I don't believe the average customer says to himself, "Wow, that business doesn't trust me so I won't buy from them." But I do believe customers pick up on the vibe of mistrust. And if they don't feel trusted they won't trust you. And even worse, they won't buy from you.

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