Do you trust your customers?

By Ken Schmitt, Founder and President, Sales Leadership Alliance and TurningPoint Executive Search

Most companies take a somewhat defensive approach to engaging their customers. They require signed, multi-page, attorney-approved agreements before any work is completed; we ask for NDAs from our potential customers and vendors; we ask them to complete an extensive “customer inquiry” page as soon as they hit our website; and we set up automated customer service programs to address concerns. But have you ever stopped to think about how this makes your customers feel? In some cases, they understand that this is just the way business gets done. However, I would argue that in many other situations, this is a huge turn off and it establishes a tone of skepticism and if we aren’t careful, mistrust.

About 15 miles from my house, there is a business that provides the simplest of services – they repair time pieces. They have been in business for over 27 years, and walking into their 1,000 sq ft location is like stepping into a store straight out of Bedford Falls – the fictitious town from the iconic Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. There are hundreds of time pieces that adorn the shelves, cases and walls, from 7’ tall grandfather clocks, to pocket watches and even a few high end watches.
The owners are always present, working diligently behind the counter, willing to answer any questions. They are personable, engaging and it is obvious they love what they do. There is almost no sign of technology, only the precision tools used to replace and affix the tiniest of parts. What is striking, however, is the absence of an automated system or credit card machine. This business takes cash and checks only! Let me say that again – they do not accept credit cards!

Why does this matter, because this unique payment strategy actually builds trust with their customers – let me explain. Eight years ago when I first ventured into their store, I discovered this “cash only” policy after they had fixed three of my watches. Embarrassed, I replied by saying “I am so sorry, I didn’t realize you don’t accept credit cards, and I don’t have any cash on me”. Rather than making me feel even worse, or getting upset that I didn’t notice the sign in the window, the owner replied with a calm, simple “That’s quite alright, just send me a check”. Wait, did I hear that right, they are going to give me my repaired watches, send me on my way, and trust that I will send them the payment in the mail? I am on candid camera or am I being “Punk’d”? The answer was no, they simply trust their customers so much, they are willing to provide a service, albeit a low cost service, and rely on me to make good. How’s that for a differentiator! Needless to say, I haven’t used any other watch since this experience eight years ago!

Nordstrom is another great example of a business trusting its customers and in return, building customer loyalty. We are all familiar with their industry-leading, generous return policy that pretty much allows any customer to return any item at any time, no questions asked! They trust that their customers will not take advantage of this policy and barring the occasional returned tire or wine stained dress, their customers respect the policy. In fact, one of the reasons many people pay higher prices at Nordstrom is due to their impeccable quality, and open return policy – we trust that their products will be top notch and if we are not happy with them, we know we can bring them back.

You might be thinking “That’s all fine and dandy, but these are B2C companies. A Business to Business company can’t possibly use this tactic to build trust”. I beg to differ. My firm, TurningPoint Executive Search, is a retained search firm. As such, our clients pay us a small upfront research retainer, in order to secure the necessary resources to launch our research-intensive recruiting process. However, we include a clause that states “if we fail to secure any interviews for them within 90 days, we will refund their upfront retainer”. We are trusting that our clients will not take advantage of this policy, engaging us with no intention of interviewing a single person. Are we taking a risk that clients may take advantage of this policy, yes. However, it builds trust between us and our customers, and it demonstrates our confidence in our process and product.

Obviously I am not suggesting we all do away with our credit card machines, or offer to work for free. Our businesses would not last very long if we did. However, I encourage business owners and sales leaders to consider how our policies build up, or break down, the trust between us and our customers. There’s a reason why I shop at Nordstrom, even though the closest store is 40 minutes away. Just as there is a reason why I drive past 3 other watch repair stores, on my way to the local shop – they trust me as a customer and I trust them as a business.

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