Photography by J. Alan Paul
Over the past few years working for the Better Business Bureau, I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with business owners from many sectors of the marketplace. Across the board, the most frequent question I get is, “How do I improve my business?” A quick Google search shows that the advice, tactics and suggestions are almost endless, and while you could spend hours upon hours reading, listening and considering, the answer is simple: Start by building trust.
Sounds easy enough, right? But how do you go about actually doing it? Is it as simple as having great marketing or solid contract verbiage? How about a dedicated staff or a huge database of clients?
While those obviously matter, it’s about much more than each item individually; it’s a feeling that you evoke in both your customers and employees. It’s a strategically created plan building a solid foundation of honesty, integrity and transparency for your company.
Warren Buffet has warned that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. While this still holds true, nowadays, in today’s social media-saturated culture, five minutes is probably more like five seconds.
At the end of the day, trust is more than just a nice thing to have in your back pocket; it has become a critical strategic asset to every organization in today’s marketplace.
In 2017, Better Business Bureau surveyed consumers and businesses across the United States and Canada. While the results weren’t overly surprising, they did prove what we already knew: Being honest is perhaps the most fundamental component of trust. In fact, it’s consistently cited as being the most important attribute of any organization, according to its customers. If you don’t appear and, more importantly, don’t prove to be honest, it’s difficult under any circumstances to build relationships.
Most people feel uneasy when they believe that a business is not being honest with them, even if they cannot pinpoint a direct cause.
Importantly, the term “honesty” can be a proxy of sorts for other behaviors such as proactivity, humility, equitability and transparency. How a consumer interprets your business’s actions may be different than how you see it. And in today’s world, perception trumps reality; even a little white lie can damage relationships. Always strive to see a situation from both inside and outside your walls before putting your company’s name behind it.
There are, of course, shades of truth — statements that are technically truthful but not honest — and most people feel uneasy when they believe that a business is not being honest with them, even if they cannot pinpoint a direct cause. They, in turn, take their business elsewhere. Being honest means so much more than just telling the truth. It means conveying information that is relevant, useful, instructive and respectful of those engaged at that moment.
Your advertising materials, contracts and employee manuals should all be clear and comprehensive to the average reader. While using three-syllable words, acronyms and technical language may look impressive, it could be confusing to those receiving your messaging. It’s important to consider your audience and customize your communications to meet them where they are. Unambiguous, understandable language is the first line of defense for your organization when disputes arise, and it can also protect you from anyone trying to take advantage of your company.
Marketing and advertising are essential to attracting new customers and getting your company’s name out there, but in a marketplace where everyone is looking for that edge against the competition, it’s easy to fall back on misleading or exaggerated claims. Avoid any spinning of the truth, even when your competitors are doing just that. At the end of the day, you will come out ahead and earn the trust of the marketplace. A good place to start might be BBB’s Code of Advertising (BBB.org/Code-of-Advertising).
Taking responsibility when a mistake is brought to your attention and then working to remedy it is often a make-or-break moment. While the old adage that the customer is always right may not fit all situations, admitting when you’re wrong goes a long way toward building trust. Remember, however, that it’s very easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. Taking a step back to gather all of the information and then responding in a respectful and fully informed manner usually results in a more amicable outcome.
Keep excuses to a minimum, and focus on win-win resolutions. More often than not, a customer who levied a complaint will come back to an organization if they know it’s a company that stands behind their products or service.
The Fargo metro job market is becoming more and more competitive. Transparency can go a long way toward attracting and sustaining great employees. The creation of a company-wide employee manual should be one of the first tasks of any business just starting out. The language should be straightforward and overarching, with clear policies in place.
Just having a handbook isn’t enough, though. You also need to adhere to and enforce the policies from the top-down:
- Having a whistleblower policy that gives your employees the ability to be heard leads to long-term employee satisfaction.
- Make sure you work to resolve situations inside your office before they leak outside. A social-media protocol must be included in your handbook.
- If expectations are not laid out, potential issues could be damaging to your business.
A Few Trust-Building Ideas
In print: Chose fonts that are easy to read and colors that stand out on your background, and avoid mouse-sized print. If it’s hard for you to read and comprehend with your background knowledge of the product, a consumer could find it especially deceptive or unnerving.
On video: While airtime can be expensive, it’s imperative that you allow a reader enough time to notice, read and understand the message.
On air: Read at a cadence that is easy to listen to and grasp by your target audience. Speaking too fast is just like mouse print. Consumers will wonder what you are trying to hide, so remember to keep your word choices simple and comprehensible.
Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota
51 Broadway N #604, Fargo, ND