Destroying Customer Trust is as Simple as…

If you shopped for a motorcycle, would you ever stop to consider that a Harley-Davidson wouldn’t deliver the power and style that Harleys have come to represent in our collective subconscious? Likely not, because you trust the brand to deliver on its promise of cruising down the open highway with a 100-horsepower engine underneath you.

Every bike Harley manufactures delivers on its brand promise, and as a result, its customers and advocates trust it to continue delivering. This dynamic is the cornerstone of the “trust economy,” a term coined by Rachel Botsman in a 2012 TED Talk. Positive interactions with a brand result in building trust. Negative interactions result in erosion of trust.

Understanding and joining this trust-based economy is relatively simple in concept: deliver on your brand’s promises to your customers. They key, according to Ray Wang, analyst for Constellation Research, is building trustworthy brand experiences—and not engaging in activities that destroy trust.

“You’re not competing with other companies; you’re competing for time and attention,”says Wang. “And that competition is for experiences and outcomes.” When a customer’s experience and the outcome of an interaction deliver on the brand’s promise, that builds trust.

Wang cites Airbnb, a digital startup whose entire value proposition has become a model for the trust economy. “Airbnb doesn’t sell rooms. They don’t sell nights. Their entire value is as a trust network.” Customers can trust the rooms they rent, and landlords can trust customers, for the same reasons: the compounded outcomes of past experiences on both sides. Customers and landlords both review interactions, building positive (or negative) trust profiles on both sides.

So how does a business compete in this trust-based economy? Deliver on your brand promises, Wang says. Here’s how in five simple steps.

Personalize experiences. Know who your customers are and what they want, and create experiences for them that deliver on your brand’s promises. For every interaction that accomplishes this, you build trust.
Operate with transparency. “Always operate with an understanding that everything eventually becomes public,” Wang says. That way nothing inadvertently sabotages your efforts.
Build credibility. Wang outlines a series of questions to ask: do you promote trustworthiness through external certificates? Do you promote trust through customer testimonials? Do you run truthful marketing campaigns? These seem simple, but if the answer is “no,” you’re damaging your customers’ trust.
Make it easy to complain. Companies often turn away from customer complaints, but Wang explains, they serve double duty: they’re data points about where you’re failing, and offer the ability to complain (and to feel heard) actually builds customer trust.
Guarantee satisfaction. The natural corollary to offering a forum for complaints—and delivering on the brand experience—is making sure that you can always guarantee a customer will be satisfied.
The trust economy can be hard to navigate, especially for companies that aren’t familiar with the principles of providing great customer outcomes and experiences. For those companies looking to avoid being left behind by the companies already offering these experiences, a great place to start is Ray Wang’s entire webinar, available on demand.

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