Trust is the new black

Trust is the currency of customer centric businesses At our recent CCO Forum meeting we were fortunate to host marketing guru Don Peppers whose books (with co author Dr Martha Rogers) on subjects such One to One Marketing (The One to One Future 1993) and Customer Equity (Return on Customer 2005) have reshaped how people think about customers and their true contribution to business. Their most recent work is Extreme Trust (2014) and yet again we think Don and Martha are on the money. While they write about organisations needing to be “trustable”, in our latest work Your Customer Rules we emphasise the customer’s need to be trusted by the organisation (as well as trust the organisation). We see this as something that customer will value increasingly. So we talk about trust being a “two way street” (customers must trust the organisation and be trusted by the organisation). We agree with Don that it is harder to “hide” things from customers as they have more information at their fingertips and share experiences more. But if they don’t feel trusted they are still likely to tell others and trash a brand. That’s why we talk about moving to a world in which the customer is in control or a “Me2B” business world and two way trust is essential to success in this new world. Don and Martha recognise that trust is something easily lost but that is very hard to rebuild. However, creation of trust is also about how organisations interact with customers. We have been working with a lot of businesses to build more trust into various times of interactions so let’s look at some practical examples of how organisations can bake element of “two way” trust into processes.

Price Transparency and Accessibility It’s very hard to hide fees these days and companies will get a bad press if they continue to make fee and charging structures complex and opaque. There are many industries who seem to take pride in making plans and fee structures complex. Of course we think the long term answer is to rethink those complex structures if they are designed to deceive and confuse customers. A practical short term solution is to get fee and pricing information into customer’s hands quickly. In the utility industry the various energy tariffs are complex. In our work to redesign utility sales processes, we give front line staff the ability to send complex tariffs to the customers in real time (via e-mail or SMS links to web sites). Many customers are happy that they have an immediate record of what they have agreed to and it shows that company has nothing to hide. So while not a perfect solution it creates a level of trust and greater transparency.

Re-think fee waiving rules

Again a trust breaker is fees customers weren’t expecting or feel hard done by. The strategic answer may be to rethink the need for these fees and how and when they are charged. e.g. what warnings help customers avoid late payment fees, but we realise that changing pricing and fees is a complex matter. However, there is a process related answer that we have found to be very successful.

When customers do get hit with a fee they don’t think is fair or right, organisations often create a complex process by which it can be reversed. In our rapid customer centred design process ,we often find it is cheaper and quicker to give staff the authority to waive these fees in many situations rather than ask for more information which is often passed to a back office area for checking and reimbursement. A quick fee waiving process costs less than a complex process of analysis and it helps to repair some of that lost trust. Customers are more open to education and will trust the brand when offered waiver – its and investment in one. It can even save time on calls and prevent complex interactions. Yes there is some lost revenue but the true costs of this revenue (in staff time and lost customer empathy) is often not worth it.

Make it easy to understand

We think there is no excuse these days for having rules, policies and processes that customers don’t understand. With the immediacy of emails and the potential for videos and other sources of information there are lots of ways to help customers understand how things work. One feature of our Best Practice Procedures is that they integrate these sources of practical help for customers. For example we often develop quick help guides for new web channels. At several companies we provided quick links to videos that explained a complex process (e.g. how to test the gas level in an LPG cylinder). At others we have helped build bill explanation guides. At a bank we built videos to explain all aspects of house buying that helped the customer in the process. What we are surprised about is how little companies have developed plain English guides to things. They also often have some fear of customer care agents sending things to customers! This short sighted view ignores the connected mobile world. Our adage “Nature abhors a vacuum” is never more apt than here. If you don’t supply information, somewhere in the inter webs, misinformation will take its place. We think this is particularly important in helping migrate customers to other forms of self-service. Providing easy to follow links and “how do I do X on the web site” guides is inexpensive and easy.

Do it with me: a trust builder

We’re often surprised that organisations expect customers to “spontaneously adopt” new channels. Many customers are risk averse and need to have the risks reduced. One way we find to do that is to offer to “Do it with” the customer. Examples include offering to help a customer register for a new on line tool or complete an application. Of course this adds to handle time and that’s why many companies don’t do it. Another barrier is that often staff don’t have their own profiles or way to mimic what the customer is doing. The worst of all – a cultural rejection of the new channel by the staff because it was implemented separately and training has been poor. All of those barriers can be overcome. You can hear the tangible relief for customers when they are told “well can I do that with you know”. It creates trust and empathy and sets the customer up for future success and independence.

Ludicrous Proof – the trust killer

In Your Customer Rules, we talk about “not tarring” all customers with the same brush. Asking customers for proof of events is often a risk mitigation strategy. However, it also creates a lot of work for the customer and the company.

The cartoon shown is based on a true story. The company in question refused to accept a customer’s word that they had transposed his date of birth even after he had passed numerous other ID checks. Why would he lie about that?. We saw an instance recently where a company wanted a bereaved wife to send proof of her late husband’s demise even though there was no risk of fraud or gain in that situation. In our Best Practice Procedures, we often challenge and remove these processes. We understand that in some situations and industries there are risks that have to be addressed and concerns about potential identity theft. However, too often customers are asked to send in documents or sign things for no reason. We even find those cases amusing at the time. More often than not, organisations ask for something in writing with a signature but have no signatures on file to verify against. They don’t seem to have thought that bit through. So there is a lot of potential to put demonstrate more trust in customers if we design processes correctly.

Key conclusions

We concur with Don Peppers and Martha Rogers that trust is going to be the key commodity that is of increased importance as customers get more control. Hiding fees and having processes that show no trust in the customer will start driving customers away. We have described a range of mechanisms that we have found effective in making fees and processes more “transparent”. Our customer centred design process is quick - often from ideas to live operations in a matter of weeks. This buys organisations the time to rethink complex pricing that requires system and product changes that take longer. So if you are looking for ways to increase trust we’d be delighted to workshop some of your opportunities.

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