Building trust doesn't happen overnight. It's earned over time and with no shortcuts. Considering how long trust takes to build—and how difficult the process can be—it's rare to find a customer who has complete faith in a brand. But it's not impossible.
You can take steps to build trust so a customer comes to you instead of a competitor, even if they have to pay a little more for the product or service. Here are three practices that can help you earn trust and gain loyal customers.
1. Set the right expectations
When you get married, your understanding with your spouse is that you're with each other and no one else. If one of you breaks that agree-ment, there's a massive loss of trust. By the same token, it's also important to set proper expectations when you begin your relationship with your customer.
Your expectations don't have to be set with the biggest, most exciting sales pitches ever given. You just have to be realistic. For example, we make it clear with our customers that they won't immediately become the next Mark Cuban or Malcolm Gladwell. Sure, we could sell them on that idea, but it would set us up for failure—and a serious loss in trust.
If your customer needs to know something about your product or service, you need to tell him. If your customer comes to you with a problem and it's fixable, fix it or tell him when and how it will be fixed. In my experience, the majority of people are reasonable as long as you're honest with them.
2. Create a meaningful relationship
This can be as simple as showing that you care. When I think of brands I trust, I think of the time Dove sent me a gift package when I became a new dad. I remember when Hyatt's manager let me out of a reservation with-out charging me an extra fee so I could leave early to see family.
Any time you can show a customer you care about him — and not just his money — you are fostering a real relationship. Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify Watches, wrote a personal note to every customer who bought a watch. I've met many of his customers, who all loved the notes, and it turned them into major brand advocates.
Havas Media Group's Meaningful Brand Index found that meaningful brands outperform the stock market by 133 percent. While it may not be possible for you to write a personal note to each and every customer, finding ways to add meaning to your customer relationships will pay off.
3. Deliver — and make up for it when you fall short
It's hard to deliver on expectations 100 percent of the time. Things happen, and sometimes you're going to fall short. But that doesn't mean you've completely lost customers' trust. There are almost always chances to make things right, but if you do nothing, you lose trust and create a negative brand advocate.
I'll always remember when I was a kid, and my dad had a bad experience with the local Blockbuster. It did nothing to correct the situation and basically told him he was out of luck. From that point forward, when anyone mentioned Blockbuster, my dad would go on and on about how awful it was. After hearing how badly he spoke of Blockbuster, you would have thought its employees kicked puppies.
All Blockbuster had to do was address his experience, but it didn't. There were a lot of factors that contributed to the company's downfall, and experiences like my father's didn't help. So think about your customer service processes, and assess what you can do for customers who aren't satisfied. In the long run, you'll create a brand that people will trust to treat them well.
It doesn't take much to start building trust with your customers. If you set expectations clearly and honestly at the beginning of your relationship, show them you care and make up for mistakes when they happen, you'll be well on your way to strengthening your relationships, building trust, and developing strong, positive brand advocates.
co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co., a company focused on helping brands and individuals extract and leverage their expertise to create, publish and distribute content to gain influence, visibility and credibility with their key audiences.