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How to Raise and Regain Trust in Your Internal and External Customers

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You may be meeting your internal and external customers in person or electronically, through video conferences, telephone calls, webinars, and virtual website experiences. How do you establish trust under all those conditions?

A study in Taiwan looked for the connection between website quality and trust. They found that website quality influenced trust in the first moments of the relationship, but that information quality was the strongest factor in relationship length. Service quality had the biggest influence on relationship depth.

Those three elements—the first impression, the information shared, and the service given—are part of any interaction between your team and your internal and external customers. Their quality will determine whether or not you are able to raise trust.

Make a Good First Impression

A good first impression is more than a sharp outfit and a firm handshake, especially in these days when so much interaction occurs remotely.

  • Show interest in the customer. All of the SMaRT strategies for face-to-face communication apply, even if you are video conferencing. Interest in the other person is shown in websites or proposals, for example, by first reassuring the customer than you understand the problem. Once that is clear, the customer will be ready for the details about how you will solve the problem, when, and how much it will cost.
  • Be available. If external and internal customers cannot reach you, if you show up late for meetings, or if you daydream while customers are speaking, you will have to work hard to regain their trust.
  • Be professional. Customers will trust you if it is clear you know what you are speaking about, have the standard professional credentials, stay calm even if their demands or complaints seem unrealistic, and afford them basic respect.
  • Be clear. Customers have to understand what you are talking about before they can trust it. For example, if you use internal jargon and acronyms when talking to external customers, they will quickly become lost. Similarly, if you are a specialist in a highly technical field, you would do well to keep in mind the technical knowledge of your audience, who may be more interest in results than in how you achieved them.

TIP: Many of the SMaRT techniques for developing personal trust apply in developing trust with customers when they are used in a spirit of collaboration and relationship building.

Raise the Quality of Your Information

Internal and external customers receive their information about you and your team from many sources: previous customers, industry gossip, reviewing sites, articles in print and online, and so on. You cannot “control” all these outlets but you can control the quality of the information you yourself spread to bolster customer trust.

  • Be honest. If you have a problem, acknowledge it. If you failed a customer, try to make it right. If you cannot deliver on a request, recommend or pass the request on to someone who can deliver. If you succeeded with flying colors, celebrate! Write a case study, gather testimonials, and let future internal and external customers know how good you are.
  • Be transparent at all levels. A company’s employees are one of the biggest advocates for a company, and the strength of your trust in your team will be reflected in their communications with your customers. When your team trusts the information they share, your internal and external customers are more likely to trust it—the basis for the success of influencers both on-line and in person.
  • Be alert. Trust takes a dive online whenever “fake news” appears concerning the company or its employees. You must be prepared to defend the truth quickly, fully, and repeatedly; once fake news gets hold, it is very difficult to overturn.
  • Recognize the effects of stress. An external or internal customer with a complaint or a problem is likely under stress and may not hear what you say clearly—or like it. Many of the SMaRT techniques you would use with a disgruntled employee will also work with a disgruntled customer.

TIP: If you ask open-ended questions, the customer is more likely to feel heard and you are more likely to receive information that improves your customer relationship and your product or service.

Focus on Service

Customer service covers the support you give internal and external customers before, during, and after the delivery of a product or service. A third of US customers state that they would leave a company after just one example of bad service; and companies that deliver great service are able to charge 16% more for their products and services.

Your goal is to meet or exceed customer expectations and industry standards of service, without causing your team to burn out and without frustrating the customer.

  • Deliver more than you promised. If you seldom deliver on the same day, don’t promise same day delivery; you are better off promising delivery in 24 hours or less. Evaluate risks before you start and set realistic customer expectations.
  • Be reliable. Both internal and external customers expect that the product or service you deliver will hold up after you are gone. Rigorous testing of a product and rigorous practice of a service raises the probability that customer expectations will be met.
  • Value the customer’s time. If you want to annoy customers, confront them with long wait or hold times, long delays on promised delivery, and lengthy processes to get to the information they want. In fact, 66% of customers consider a timely response to be the most important part of their online experience; 75% expect to receive help within 5 minutes.
  • Work toward industry awards. Most industries have awards, certification programs, and/or standards (such as IEEE, ASTM, OSHA, and UL) that you can strive toward. Your Chamber of Commerce or other organizations may also have awards for community service or support of local initiatives. Those awards, certifications, and standards not only prepare you to deliver quality service but reassure customers that they are getting quality service.

TIP: Because corporate brands are faceless, people are pleased when they receive service consistently from the same person or team or at least from an identified representative.

How to Regain Lost Trust

Once you lose the trust of an external or internal customer, you may have to resign yourself to having lost that customer for good. But before you do that, take the following steps:

  • A sincere apology may not win you back trust immediately, but it may give you a second chance to deliver on expectations.
  • Provide for solutions. Retail stores know the value of a simple, gracious return policy. Consider in advance of problems whether there are compensations you might offer or ways in which you can make the complaint and resolution process easier. In most cases, you will have once chance to reach a resolution—grab it.
  • Ask your customers. If customers become inactive, see if you can find out why. Do they need more regular information on what is happening in your company; special offers; new or different products and services; or a different way to contact you? You might send out surveys, ask for comments or ratings, and monitor online mentions of your company.
  • Grab the opportunity. A disgruntled internal or external customer may be your first indication that something in your product, service, or customer relationship process needs to change.

TIP: Most people who feel wronged by a company simply leave rather than pursuing a complaint. That tendency means that keeping in touch with your customers is so essential—otherwise, you are operating blind when it comes to diagnosing problems.

Key Takeaways

Maintaining a positive level of trust with internal and external customers requires constant vigilance on the quality of the first impression you make, the information you share, and the services you deliver. While customers are quick to leave a company or team that breaks trust, an apology, fast resolution, and future prevention may keep the customer relationship intact.  

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