Why Gaining Customer Trust is so Challenging Nowadays – and What to Do about It

By | September 12, 2021


Customer trust is crucial for driving sales and revenue, but it’s also near an all-time low. Look no further than the approximately 40% of Americans who don’t trust the last presidential election results. COVID-19 vaccine skeptics are choosing to ignore healthcare advice because they don’t trust public health bodies, elected leaders, or scientists, in another prime example of today’s trust crisis.

The Edelman Group has been publishing a Trust Barometer study for 20 years now. This year, they report that trust scores dropped for every societal leader – including religious, political, media, and business leaders.

The general breakdown in trust didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a storm that’s been brewing for years, fueled by political scandal, “golden handshake” payments to businessmen walking away from companies that lost shareholder money and fired hundreds of employees, and data breaches and fraud cases that drove suspicion about who you can trust with your personal details.

COVID-19 was the nail in the trust coffin. It was a chance for leaders to regain public faith, but most of them muffed the opportunity, perceived as locking down too late, too hard, and/or flip-flopping over regulations and restrictions.

And yet, brands have to find a way to build and strengthen consumer trust if they want to turn a profit. When asked how they make purchase decisions, 38% of consumers said that trust in the brand is the leading factor.

Fortunately, there are still some things your brand can do to help lift consumer trust.

Speak out about brand values

Executives can be nervous about expressing their brand values, fearing that they might alienate somebody with a differing perspective. But articulating your values expresses your authenticity, which drives trust both online and offline. Like with everything in life, if you try to please everyone by remaining on the fence, you’ll end up pleasing no one.

“Showing your customers that your brand values align with theirs is possibly the most important step for businesses to build trust,” says Cori Widen, a product marketing manager at Boosted by Lightricks. “Brand values are more than just a mission statement – your brand values help define your business’ personality and let your customers know more about your purpose, besides just making sales.”

The aforementioned Edelman study found that 86% of consumers believe that CEOs should speak up publicly about key issues of the day, even though it can be risky. We all feel more trust towards people — and brands — that share our views, so staying silent can make it hard for consumers to identify with your brand.

Care for your employees

Customers pay attention to your employee-employer relationship. If you’re seen to treat your employees with care and respect, and employees express positivity about their workplace, it encourages consumers to trust you, too.

COVID-19 saw consumers publicly warning each other away from companies that mistreated employees, while warmly recommending those that went beyond the call of duty to care for workers’ financial, physical, and mental health.

This is particularly important for companies that rely heavily on in-person interactions, like brick and mortar retail, hospitality brands, or leisure centers that need to encourage customers back through their doors.

People are still nervous about health and hygiene, and they’ll take their cues from your employees. Jodi Watson, former CMO at Petco and Wolverine Worldwide, notes that “If your employees feel safe and confident, that’s going to translate to consumer confidence.”

Place consumers’ best interests center stage

While trust crumbled right and left, faith in financial institutions has flourished. Globally, 82% of consumers say they are happy with their bank, the highest number for a long time.

It’s possible that this figure can be attributed to the speed with which banks and other financial institutions responded to COVID-19, rapidly rolling out digital services, loan relief, and mortgage vacations.

“Consumers expect companies to respond to crises and help solve problems — and in this case, financial services organizations mobilized quickly and stepped up to the plate,” explains Philip Guiliano, partner at BrandActive. “By offering relief-oriented solutions (such as mortgage deferral programs for those negatively impacted by the pandemic), they proved to their customers that they had their backs.”

Regardless of the industry you’re in, you can learn from banks by replying extra quickly to consumer questions, developing features that make life easier for consumers, sharing trustworthy and useful content, and generally delivering an excellent customer experience.

Listen to your customers

Trust is a feature of a relationship, and a real relationship has to work both ways. Simply broadcasting your values or beliefs isn’t enough to build a trust-based relationship.

You need to ask for feedback too, and most of all, to listen to and act upon it.

Mackenzie Caudill, editor of What’s Next Labs, is a big proponent of listening to customers, asserting that “Trust is built when a company listens to its customers, takes action accordingly, and keeps its promises.

If organizations invite feedback but take no action, customers feel that their trust has been betrayed for lip service. They see the company as being dishonest and disingenuous, which diminishes the hope for a lasting relationship.”

Show your humanity

In times of crisis, people seek empathy and support. Your brand needs to find its human face so you can connect with consumers on an equal level. It’s a good time to share your own challenges while expressing genuine empathy towards partners, consumers, and employees alike.

In April 2020, Rachel Diebner, consultant at McKinsey, advises that “Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can trigger an immediate and lingering effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty.” When emotional stakes are high, the potential to win a customer for life is greater, but it isn’t going to work if you project faceless infallibility.

Make sure to share real behind-the-scenes images of your struggles on social media, being honest about unexpected delays or changes to your products or services, and amplifying the voices of actual employees.

All is not lost for consumer trust

Even when consumer trust is crashing, there are still ways for brands to increase their trustworthiness and improve their relationship with consumers. By listening to customers, expressing empathy, caring for employees, articulating brand values, and focusing on customer needs, brands can raise their trust profile even when everyone else’s is low.

Image Credit: provided by the author; depositphotos; thank you!

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