Earning customer trust in an increasingly sceptical world: Lessons from politics
Trust is critical in Business Development. If your prospective client doesn’t trust you, they are unlikely to use you unless you incentivise the deal. Even then, you will probably need to “borrow” trust from others, either by teaming with someone your prospect trusts, or by providing testimonial support from one of your prospect’s peers.
The Edelman Trust Barometer has monitored a steady decline in trust around the world. No one is immune. Trust in NGOs, businesses, Government and the media has steadily declined and remains low. There are many causes for this. While business, through principled CEOs, and reputable media, through journalists, are starting to see some recovery, the trust deficit in Government is showing few signs of improvement. So let’s look at what politicians are doing wrong.
Acting out of self-interest
When we see our Government (in Australia, in particular) removing elected leaders out of apparent self-interest, and regular examples of the misuse of power, it’s not hard to see why the public questions where Government is focusing its attention. Multiple examples of apparently selfish behaviour have eroded trust in Government, impacting all politicians, not just those acting out of self-interest.
Being inconsistent and unreliable
Part of the reason behind modern “sound bite” political rhetoric is to manage expectations. Going off script and making promises that can’t be delivered is damaging to trust. Even then, it’s hard for politicians to control all communications in the context of a 24-hour news cycle and a world where everything they say is kept on the record. Politicians also lose trust by being inconsistent on their position, back-flipping on issues. Opponents are quick to highlight and make capital any time a politician changes his or her stance on an issue.
The outcome is a general reduction in trust of Governments.
Having low relatability
Politicians are, generally, completely unrelatable. The lower house in Canberra is called the “House of Representatives”, but never has a group of 150 people been less representative of the population than in modern Australian Government.
Apart from being predominantly white, male and Christian, approximately 50% of members were political staffers or advisers, over 20% are from the trade union movement and many more have come from associated entities such as think tanks and aligned law firms. The recent swing of primary votes to minor parties and independents is a response to this.
The machinations of Government are complex and, through necessity, largely happen behind closed doors. In a world where so much information is freely available, this doesn’t sit well with the general public. People feel they have the right to know. The extent to which politicians have lost trust from lack of transparency may be quite low but it reflects a failure to adapt the way Government functions to changes in public expectation. So, how can we learn from the least trusted group of people? How can we establish trust with our clients?
Trust is an art or, more accurately, ARRT!
Selfless acts are one of the most effective and fastest ways to earn trust. This is why nurses and emergency services workers regularly rate highly on list of most trusted professions. People view their acts as being substantially more valuable than their remuneration. They give more than they take. That self-sacrifice earns them trust.
Conversely, selfish behaviour has the opposite impact with equal efficiency. Small acts of altruism go a long way. When you get the opportunity to do something that benefits a prospective client but that they would not ask for, nor expect, then seize that moment. You can gain significant credibility and trust.
Say what you mean and do what you say. Unlike altruism, reliability can be a slow burn. It can also be more forgiving. If you are generally very reliable, one misstep is unlikely to bring you unstuck.
Being reliable in business dealings isn’t complicated, but it does extend to every aspect of your relationship with your client. There will be formal and informal commitments and obligations in delivery, communications, accounts and reporting. The markers of your reliability can be as small as arriving to meetings on time, or as large as achieving milestone dates during delivery. Be sure that you don’t undermine good work in one aspect of the relationship by being sloppy in other areas. You will often have some control over the commitments being made. Make sure you don’t set yourself up for failure; under-promise and over-deliver.
Rapport is an intangible quality. Ultimately, it’s about being relatable, affable and empathetic. On the hierarchy of trust, people tend to trust those with who they have the most in common.
Rapport in business is as simple as having a relationship that extends beyond the deal. Share stories with your client about your family and interests, and ask about theirs. Start conversations by showing interest in them, not just their roles and responsibilities. If you’re inviting them to a work function, choose one that they will enjoy. Asking an art devotee to a football game doesn’t help establish a rapport! Your ultimate goal with rapport is to establish a relationship that could survive in the absence of any business interactions.
Modern procurement is often secretive and adversarial. The rise and rise of corporate governance and government probity are major contributors to this.
While there may be limits on the extent to which your client or prospect can be transparent with you, that shouldn’t limit your openness with them. Offer to show them costing data or examples of previous success and failure. Your client will appreciate any insight that could potentially assist them to maximise value or de-risk a project or purchase, even if they don’t specifically ask for it.
The best outcomes we see from our Shipley clients is when the buyer and seller work together in an open and collaborative manner. In these interactions, buyers spend less on things they don’t need and gain things they do need, and the seller makes better margins. Encouraging collaboration through being transparent is better business for all involved. In a world where trust is elusive, and our political leaders fail on all fronts, be a beacon of trust for your clients by acting in a way that achieves mutual benefit.