The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasise the similarities between you and the customer.
—Thomas J. Watson
Building relationships with customers once they have put their faith and trust in you is a complicated process. In the end, customers have many choices when purchasing products and services.
Remember, they chose you for a reason. Your product or service offerings may be great, but in the end, the customer had a good feeling about buying from you.
Below are a few things that you really need to avoid in order to maintain that trust with your customers:
1. Failure to set expectations
There is nothing more damaging to a relationship than both parties thinking that the other is going to do something one way rather than another and in each instance, they may be wrong.
Let’s put ourselves in the customer’s shoes for a moment.
They bought into your marketing message on your website or advertisement. They were intrigued by your salesperson’s pitch.
They got really excited once you showed them a demo of what your product can do. Then, they bought the whole kit and caboodle.
The customer thinks that everything up to this point would be exactly how the rest of the relationship would be. Unfortunately, they would be wrong in many cases.
Most organisations fail to create a process that ensures that clear expectations are set for what the business relationship would look like going forward.
Recently, a client of mine complained to me that the customers perceive the company as a commodity, and don’t seem to understand what it takes to deliver a great service based upon the parameters under which the customer operates.
My client feels like the company could deliver a much better service if more of a mutual understanding of each other’s pain points could be understood.
I asked whether the client had a customer scorecard and whether the company set expectations up front to have quarterly business reviews with the customers.
The answer is in the negative.
This is one of the first things I decided to help client with as I knew that it is crucial for both parties in a business relationship to co-create mutual expectations.
Customers want you to meet or exceed their expectations. This is not possible unless you know what those expectations are.
Write them down.
Track your progress toward those expectations. Let the customer know how you have performed.
Finally, and a very important point, let them know what they can do to help you perform even better!
Put these types of processes in place and you will be that much closer to maintaining that strong relationship you worked so hard to build.
Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
I have worked in a customer-facing leadership role for most of my career, and I can say that over-promising and rarely delivering can get any organisation in deep you-know-what very quickly.
This is true whether you are in healthcare, financial services, staffing, management consulting, etc.
I can think of no more relevant example of this than in the software industry. There are an infinite number of requests that a customer might make to an organisation around software upgrades or fixes.
I have heard exchanges with customers about what an organisation plans to do to fix the amount of times a site is down and then proceed to fall short on those promises.
I have heard promises to customers about shorter than normal timelines to add particular upgrades in order to “sell” or “keep” the customer. They fell short here too.
Bottom line is that every time this type of over-promising and rarely delivering on those promises takes place, it breaks down the trust the customer has in your brand.
The trust your customer has in you is the tree. The tree is your character. Over-promising and rarely delivering ruins your character.
Don’t do it!
Be modest in your assertions. Be conservative in your projections. Then, behind the scenes, work your tail off to exceed what your customers thought was possible. They will love you for it!
3. Ignoring inevitable conversations
Initiating a conversation with a customer whom we know may not be happy with our products or services can be one of the most difficult things to do.
Standing tall while doing it is crucial. I recall having a team member who dreaded entering into emotionally-charged conversations so much that she would just pass those calls over to me to handle them.
Do I love to talk to angry customers? Absolutely not, but I do see these conversations as an opportunity to listen, empathise and truly show that I care.
We show our value and our heart when we face the difficult times with our customers. It is in the low times that our relationships are strengthened for the long haul.
Don’t dread or ignore those inevitable conversations with customers when your organisation falls short on delivering upon expectations.
Have courage. Show them that you are prepared to do what it takes to back up your brand promises no matter what! It is in these times when true mutual respect and understanding is born.
4. Putting your needs above theirs
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —Theodore Roosevelt
This quote holds true when building relationships with customers.
Customers are people. They can see right through any insincerity, and they know when you are putting your needs above theirs. They know if you are covering your own backside.
Show them you care by letting them know what is on the line for your organisation and what you are prepared to do to keep their business.
Let them see that they are not just a number, or a revenue line on a profit and loss statement.
Sure, they pay your bills, but let them know that your relationship with them is about more than that. If it is not about more than that, I can assure you that very few customers will remain loyal to organisations that are not loyal to them.
Food for thought
Building relationships with customers starts with them trusting your brand through a whole series of interactions. The faith they place in you to deliver on your brand promises should not be taken for granted.
Avoiding some of the mistakes I outlined here will really help you maintain their faith and maybe even get you referrals along the way!
Heather is a leadership strategist, author, conference speaker, and trainer. To engage with her, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Career Advice articles, click here.