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The Business Value of Customer Trust

Trustability Is the Best Policy

On a recent shopping trip I visited Dick's Sporting Goods to purchase snow boots for myself and for my daughter. While there we added gloves and several other items to our cache. The line was long and full of customers impatiently shuffling their purchases as one harried cashier rushed to ring up sales as quickly as possible.

When I set my items on the counter, the cashier quickly rang up everything and sent me on my way, anxious to get to the next customer. Everything was on sale, but something seemed off about the total. I stopped by the store entrance and reviewed my receipt. The cashier had neglected to ring up one pair of boots. I promptly went back, told him about the error, and had him charge me for the boots. He was amazed and thankful that I had done so. I wouldn't have considered any other option.

Many companies, however, set processes and policies that help them to benefit from customers' errors. In an age of increasing transparency, this approach to business will only serve to provoke customers' ire and send them in search of a more trustable competitor. Consider the customers' firestorm of criticism when Bank of America announced fees for debit card purchases. The company quickly rescinded its decision, while several other banks used the snafu to communicate to customers how they would never take such customer-unfriendly actions (although many of those same companies charge their share of customer-unfriendly fees).

Customers today are quick to call out organizations that are acting solely in their own best interests versus also acting in the best interest of their customers, often using social channels as a megaphone. Companies that want to retain their customers and acquire new ones—that would be all companies—need to think, and act, differently. They need to take proactive measures to build customer trust. This includes more than changing policies designed to profit from customers' errors or misunderstanding; it means instituting policies and procedures that help prevent customers from making errors that would incur fees in the first place, and that ensure they get the right products and the best value. For example: sending alerts that warn bank customers of a potential overdraft, or proactive outreach by a telecom to update customers' voice and data plans to ones that better match their usage.

The fact is, customer trust is crucial to building emotional loyalty, increasing customer value, and ensuring long-term success in business today. As Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., write in Extreme Trust, "Companies will succeed when they generate ease of mind in helping their customers succeed. We call it Extreme Trust—being proactively trustworthy. Treating your customers just the way you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes."