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How to build trust with your customers

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

When your customers trust you, they are more likely to engage, purchase your products & services and spread the good word about your organisation.

Often sales and service teams are trained to exhibit superficial characteristics such as smiling more or tone of voice.

These all have their place but if they aren’t delivered with behavioural traits, that build more important elements like trust, customers will recognise this, and be sceptical of what you’re communicating and its authenticity.

Trust is about how you make people feel. The first step is to build behaviours that create a trust cycle with customers through effective team development.

island as a metaphor for building trust with customers

Why is trust important in the workplace

What is trust?

Trust is a “brain process that binds representations of self, other, situation, and emotion into a neural pattern called a semantic pointer.”

Trust is one of those words that gets thrown around in a vague way and is often misunderstood. It’s harder for leaders to measure trust compared to hard metrics, such as order figures, but by building trust this has huge knock-on effects on those tangible figures, from company turnover to employee turnover.

Why is trust important?

A study by Gartner in recent years found that 81% of customers would refuse to do business with a product they didn’t trust. The primary drivers were warmth, authenticity, and dependability.

If your employees don’t live and breathe the principles of trust and grow these behavioural traits over time, you’ll lose business.

Your customers will ask why they should buy, in a world of constant competition if your team don’t engage with them in a way that breeds trust. They will have very little reason to be loyal to you or become advocates of your brand.

So how do you start building trust with your customers?

Helping customers by building trust

Which behaviours build trust?

By breaking the qualities of trust down into separate behaviours it’s easier to develop these individually and as a sales or service team.

Here’s some of the things to focus on:

Reliability – When your words and promises match your actions customers realise they can rely on you. When you repeatedly show you can be trusted through these actions you become dependable. Note that it’s important not to confuse trust with rapport, rapport is a small part of the bigger intimacy picture.

Intimacy – We're more likely to trust people that we know well, therefore familiarity helps build that relationship. But it’s more than just talking regularly. It’s about making people secure about you and what you are doing for them. What’s more they need to know their confidentiality isn’t impacted when they give you sensitive information as part of the sales process. This is similar to what happens if you tell a friend a secret and they share it, you won’t confide in them again.

Self-orientation – This is about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and focusing on them rather than your own goals for the conversation. If people feel you are listening they are more likely to trust that your future actions will meet their needs. Also when you truly look through the eyes of a perspective customer you find more opportunities to help them, which has a knock on effect on new and existing sales.

Credibility – Focuses on delivering on promises with customers and honesty, of course credibility can also be affected by outside influences such as reviews online, and the credibility of those reviews in turn, for example do they seem genuine or fake.

Authenticity – Look to find common ground so you are more likely to say ‘yes’ together. Organisations are increasingly moving away from scripts. By using their own language this helps customers feel the customer service they receive is authentic. Sales team that inject their own natural personality whilst conducting interactions with the utmost respect and courtesy are more likely to provide a deeper level of experience which builds long-lasting relationships.

Finding a way through to build trust with customers

How do you measure trust?

David Maister explores this topic in his work The Trusted Advisor. You need to benchmark and find ways to measure trust, both in the behaviours of yourself and your people but also in the tangible outcomes. David Maister developed the trust quotient to take away the challenge of explaining and measuring the behaviours of trustworthiness.

The trust quotient is a mixture of credibility, reliability and intimacy overlayed by self-orientation.

How to build trust with your customers during the sales process

During the sales process there are notoriously tricky periods such as ‘the pitch’ during the end of a discovery call. When you behave consistently, in a way that makes the customer feel safe, that challenging part of the call becomes fundamentally easier.

Trust is not a static one-off event, it’s an ongoing part of the relationship. One outcome of building trust is that if a person experiences your continued honesty, consistency, and reliability, they are far more likely to be patient with you when challenging parts of the relationship occur, such as a shipment being held up for example.

When your behaviour builds trust, customers feel SAFE, this makes sales and customer calls fundamentally stronger even the challenging bits.

What’s more building on social interest in each other intertwines rapport with trust.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie talks about the secret of Socrates and the importance of getting a customer to agree with you through the little ‘yeses’ that make it easier to ultimately say yes to the product; when you inadvertently trigger ‘no’ responses it means saying yes later an uphill battle as it subconsciously undermines the integrity of their previous words.

building bridges through trust with your customers

Helping your customers make better decisions

You can only help customers make the right decisions for them when you understand them on a deep level.

Look at things through your customer’s eyes, listen and step into their shoes, be curious and ask genuine questions.

You need to use self-orientation and understand the rational between their past and future decisions.

As people it’s in our nature to try and fix things but, to do this effectively you need to build trust and listen. Use empathy to drill down and sell them what they need.

When building trust goes wrong

One big mistake people make is to avoid telling customers bad news.

They avoid the issue in an attempt to maintain a flawless relationship which leads to unintentional dishonesty.

Whilst customers don’t want to hear bad news, hearing bad news later on will lead to feelings of resentment and mistrust. Once you break that relationship in terms of trust it’s almost impossible to get that back.

In teams that deal directly with customers your reputation is also linked to your team. That means if someone is dishonest with a customer it reflects badly on you too.

Therefore, it’s important to share your joint values within your team and agree on how to deal with these situations.

Communicate the advantages of credibility, transparency and dealing with something in the moment.

What’s more by being responsive on progress good or bad you build that intimacy you’re your customers. No updates make people nervous, even if the radio silence is for a good reason. Someone could be working really hard in the background. and they wouldn’t know.

Create the tools for your team to present feedback in an honest and constructive way using evidence. Framework this to support individuals in your team, knowing how to communicate with your team and customers is just as important as trust.

The outcomes of building trust with your customers

What are the consequences of successfully building trust with customers?

When you build trust with your customers effectively this often translates to increased performance in the sales figures and repeat business.

This extends into your own team too. As customers become more satisfied so do the employees as their targets are more easily achieved through repeat customers and they have less stress caused by customer complaints.

This leads to higher employee retention, more skilled employees (from staying longer and knowing the ropes). Employees will themselves become advocates of your brand when they feel highly satisfied with the culture and trust the brand themselves through happy customers.

Less complaints means employees are less likely to feel overwhelmed or experiencing burnout which can also reduce sickness leave too. As your employee’s wellbeing improves so does the overall productivity of the workforce.

When trust envelopes your sales process the quality of what you deliver will grow exponentially with knock-on effects for your brand’s reputation. You’ll deliver a high quality service in a way that means both your customers and employees feel safe.

How D4S can help you build trust

Building trust with customers can vastly increase your ability to boost sales and build relationships with customers.

We’re building tailored programmes built on sales effectiveness that transform teams and organisations. If you want to evolve as an organisation get in touch with us to explore options specific to your team and industry.


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