Trust Flows From the Top Down

For permission marketing to work for your company, your customers have to trust you. Permission granted through the checking of a box, or the failure to uncheck a box, is meaningless unless it results in trust in your company.

How many of your customers trust you now? Probably only a few. And those few trust you not because of what you say, or whether you use opt-in or opt-out, but because they’ve been through a number of transactions with you, and you have demonstrated your honesty and reliability. You’ve walked the talk.

This is particularly true right now, at a time when the media is awash with stories of failed and failing dot-coms. How can a customer trust you when he or she can’t even be sure you’ll still be in business next week?

Is there a way to increase the levels of trust felt by new or even prospective customers?

Sure there is.

But it may run contrary to what you’re doing right now. This year billions of dollars are being spent on solutions to help customers and prospects interact with dot-coms through live chat, phone, and email.

In other words, if I’m a prospective customer of yours, and I’m on your site hoping to buy something, these solutions will help me contact you without having to leave the site.

As that customer, a part of what I want to ask may be, “Can I get this shipped to my mom in Helsinki?” But I’m also asking another unspoken question: “Can I trust you?”

On the surface, live chat and other real-time solutions are a great idea. The trouble is, the employees who fulfill this customer service function are often low on the totem pole in your company, with incomplete knowledge of your products and services and almost no authority.

How do companies deal with this incomplete knowledge? They invest in technology: dynamic FAQs, knowledge-based systems, etc. Senior managers make up for the limitations of the company’s customer service representatives by deploying CRM software systems that can serve up the right answers.

On the surface, that may work for the dot-com. But it doesn’t work for me, the customer. Why? Because when customer service people are simply there to “drag and drop” the “appropriate” answer to my question, as determined by the software being used, there’s a big disconnect there for me.

Yes, I discovered that you do ship to Helsinki. But I also discovered that while I expected to be communicating with a real person, that isn’t really how it turned out.

Is this important? Sure it is. Anyone who has fielded a live, incoming phone call from a customer while he or she is at your web site knows the enormous relief that customer feels to be connected with a real person who can help. It’s palpable.

In terms of building a relationship with a customer, one real, unscripted, unprompted phone call can buy more trust than any money you may care to spend on software solutions.

So what’s the point of all this?

The point is simple. The answer to securing long-term permission is to grow trust. The best way to increase levels of trust is to make real, human connections with your prospects and customers.

So here comes the moment of irony.

How come senior managers of dot-coms don’t trust their customer service employees enough to interact with their customers, unscripted and unprompted?

How come all employees at all levels in dot-com companies are not trusted, empowered, and encouraged to become the true “customer service voice” of the company?

How come in a new world economy in which the information technology revolution has torn down every wall and hierarchy imaginable, dot-coms are, by and large, still structured in a very traditional way: president, senior vice president, manager, etc.?

Imagine what would happen if folks within your own organization were enabled to interact with one another, without fear of “hierarchy” or being told their views are stupid or unwelcome.

Imagine what would happen if you then opened the network outbound to your customers, and back, so that everyone in your organization became part of the customer service experience.

Instead of hearing the “drag-and-drop voice” of your CRM software, customers would begin to feel the multiple shades and voices of every individual within your company.

Then you’d build real trust and real permission.

How do you make this happen? In a connected world, before you can expect your customers to trust you, you need to build trust within your own organization. And that means the boss has to trust his or her own people. Trust them to know what to say to their customers.

Trust starts from the top down.

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