In Business, It’s All A Matter of Trust



”The glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and the led is trust, and trust is based on integrity.” –Brian Tracy

Trust is funny. It’s one of those things you can’t ever get back once its lost. It doesn’t matter how much you sweet talk me, how pretty the flowers are that you send, how sad you look or how remorseful you pretend to be. Once you show me that you can be bought, lured or that you’re too stupid to know how to protect me, I’m gone. And you’ll never get me back.

The same goes for your brand.

I don’t think I’m all that unique when I say that the moment I have to question you, we’re done. If I have to question your ethics, why you’re recommending that product or whether or not I can trust you with this information, we’re already headed for divorce. Because my word is bond. And yours needs to be too.

Most people woke up to two news stories today. They heard that Facebook suffered a “glitch” that shot people’s semi-private status messages out into the depths of Twitter and FriendFeed. They also heard about the TechCrunch cleansing product liars love triangle. And while Facebook has already corrected the issue (no worries, I’m sure something else will blow up next week.) and Sarah Lacy will come up with an elaborate story as to why she’s not a liar and how her product recommendation was totally organic — both brands took a serious blow.

It sounds dramatic, but it’s not. For me to continue trusting either brand, I’d have to change my actions. I’d have to be more careful, more secretive, more scrutinizing. The dynamic we had is gone. And if that’s how sensitive I am to a company as big and as secure as Facebook, imagine how your customers feel.

Because you’re small, you have a much higher burden of trust to prove. You need to prove to me that you’re honest, that you’re competent, and that my credit card, my data and my heart are all safe with you.

There are plenty of Web site trust factors that you can concern yourself with, however, none of that is as important as how you run your business. It’s not as important as how you deal with me on the phone or in store, how securely you protect my data, and how hard you fight for me when selling me out is the easier option.

TechCrunch has sold out. They actually sold out a long time ago. And Facebook has a history of incompetence and bad decisions. That’s now become their brand. It’s what they’re known for.

Your brand should be based on trust. That’s what will make you a hero or a villain to your customers. But how do you do that – become the type of company people associate with trust, rainbows and baby bunnies? By proving, repeatedly, that you realize that your customers are the most important thing to your business. Because they are.

That means:

  • Not promising what you can’t deliver or faking expertise.
  • Doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Not selling, using or whoring my data.
  • Letting me opt in to emails, mailings, and features instead of forcing the opt out.
  • Keeping your word, especially when it’s difficult.
  • Investing in technology and technologists that will keep me and my information secure.
  • Putting me before your shareholders.
  • Treating me like a person, not a number.
  • Not lying to me. We’re in this together.
  • Admitting mistakes. Being human is okay. Even in business.

Building trust is all about the little things. That’s probably been one of my favorite things about forming Outspoken — being able to create that kind of relationship with clients.  Because, when it comes down to it, in business and in life it’s all a matter of trust.

What trust signals do you look for?

Your Comments

  • Meg

    Great post! I agree with what you are saying. Did you see the Forrester Research survey about the sources that people trust the most/least. Right now online content sites, like TechCrunch, are still highly trusted sources of information. But as sites like this continue sell out I can see that trust diminishing. The link to the survey is in the first sentence of this blog post. I would love to know your thoughts.

  • Lisa Barone

    Meg: I think I do remember seeing that survey back at the end of the year. With less than 40 pecent of people saying they trust online news content, I’m not sure I’d classify that as “highly trusted”. :) But you’re definitely right, as TechCrunch starts to blur the line between editorial and advertorial, they’re going to lose trust. They already are. I don’t go there for news. I go there now to read Paul Carr and to see who’s rubbing Sarah’s back today.

  • john andrews

    News flash! The media has lost it’s integrity! Alert the media! Oh.. waitasec… that won’t work.

    Trust is a hot topic these days. I wrote about trust yesterday as well.. related to Hitwise search marketing services.

    Today I saw a video blogger rant about the crappy service he had received at a restaurant, before praising the CEO for having seen his complaint tweet yesterday and sending him a “please come back” email this morning. In other words, he tweeted that they sucked, they replied immediately to try and resolve the issue, and he video blogged about THAT as a positive thing (prefaced with a summary update about how horrible their service was when he visited). Did that work?

    They traded a fleeting tweet for a memorial video blog post. They trusted him in this case… and I bet he still thinks he did good by praising their Social Media prowess.

    Trust Signals to Look for When Dealing With Social Media Icons:

    Read their past blog posts to see if they complain to get attention. if so, they want attention. Keep that in mind.
    Profile them in general, to better understand the mindset. No sense feeding a troll or poking a lunatic with a stick.
    Email and ask for a phone call to discuss the sensitive bits. It works.
    Who are their friends? It’s easy to check (Facebook, etc) and might be easier to reach out to a friend of a friend who can offer the mouth some free advice on your behalf.

    I’ve got a copy of the influence game around here somewhere….

  • Adam

    Agreed. It seems like I lose total interest so quickly as soon as that trust factor comes into consideration. Some companies/organizations it doesn’t bother me, because I assume the worst from them. Those that are fully immersed in social media and all of that interaction that is involved. You go from cool to creepy quick in my book.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    Even though you included a link in your article to @Graywolf’s article, you failed to disclose that it’s a paid link. I mean, it’s not cash – he pays you by ragging on you all the time. Does that count?

    On a less serious note, it’s tough maintaining integrity in life and in business. There are countless unanticipated turns and twists along the way that can make it near impossible to maintain 100% of the time.

    Yet if I do my very best, and I am completely OPEN and HONEST about my own shortcomings when they occur, that counts for a lot. And in some areas there just needs to be a line in the sands of trust that will never intentionally be crossed.

  • Yawn Webmaster!

    The problem with most trust analyses done for the web, is that they start from the position that there is already an inherent trust in a new brand. And then they wonder why no-one buys from them. That’s why we see offline brands doing so well online, they bring the trust baggage with them.

    So, if you’re new before you do any of the above, you need to convince the user that you are who you say you are. Suggested reading “Effects of site, vendor, and consumer characteristics on website trust and disclosure”. The trust seals might work, but they are pretty rubbish too, quite a number have nothing in place to protect the user (customers) in case of problems, and that is going to destroy any trust yo’u’ve built if some customer discovers this because there’s been a problem.

    We’re also talking about personal ethics, and the extent to which you will sell out. It’s very complicated because personal ethics draws on so many rationalities but it’s something I will be tackling.

  • Kim Krause Berg

    I realized the more I’m on the Internet, the less I trust both it and the people/companies on it. How strange. Usually it’s the opposite. The longer I spend getting to know something, the more I come to trust it. However, like you said, once bitten, twice shy. I’m more that way with people than products, but the big ole world wide web just keeps blowing its chances with me, over and over again :)