July 29, 2014

Every customer trusts you. But what do they trust in?

Share via email

Trust by alireza1

Thanks to the wonders of LinkedIn Today, I was introduced to a 2010 Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers.”

I gave a mental nod to the authors,  Matthew DixonKaren Freeman, and Nicholas Toman for the title that caused a little adrenaline to rise in my bloodstream, and clicked the link to read the article.

Their point is a good one – that “delight” is overshooting things a bit.  What customers really want is follow-through.  You don’t need to heap tons of service onto customers, they say, you just need to deliver consistently.  Since so many companies are quite poor at doing that, just being consistent and following through on what is promised is enough to sustain loyalty.

Which makes me think that the number one thing companies need to focus on is trust.

Trust will be established no matter what.  Customers will trust in something when it comes to your company – but what will they trust in?  Will they trust in your ability to deliver a really good western omelet, even if it is by a grump waiter?  Will they trust that your product never fails, justifying the price tag, or will they trust that they can save a few bucks if they are willing to sacrifice what they perceive as frills?  Do they trust that your people will arrive on time for service appointments, or do they trust in the fact that they will need to idly wait during a long appointment window?

All of which is about establishing operations that deliver on a business plan.  A plan that guides the business into servicing a particular niche.  If you want customers to trust in your products and/or services, you need to know what it is you are delivering, and what the expectations are within that niche.  If you want to be a first mover, customers have to trust that your higher-priced products will be particularly innovative or stylish.  If you want to be known as a high-quality, low-cost provider – target budget-minded customers who place a premium on practicality. 

When it comes to customer service, there is a lot of discussion and advice on creating trust.  Trust, however, occurs naturally.  Dictionary.com offers a definition of trust  as the “confident expectation of something.”  People will, quite quickly, develop an expectation of what they are likely to get from you – good service or bad, high quality or low, good price or not.  What you want to establish is a positive trust, one that is based on customers consistently getting what they value.  This is why establishments with grumpy waitresses but good omelets, low quality products but good prices, and innovative products with big price tags are the foundations of so many successful companies – they consistently deliver what is expected to a particular niche that values it.

It is also why businesses that consistently fail to live up to expectations ultimately fail.  That much is intuitive, of course.  When people come to trust that your products are not worth the price tag or that your service doesn’t adequately measure up to the experience people desire, you will fail.  There are many suggested countermeasures, but they all boil down to two simple approaches  - improving quality and service, or marketing your way into a different image so that you can occupy a different niche.  Improving quality is about creating greater positive trust.  Finding a different niche is about raising awareness among a new audience that is predisposed to trusting you in the first place.  Either approach creates that sense of delight – an audience that believes it knows what to expect from you is provided with more than they anticipated. 

Fortunately, according to the 2010 article, people have come to trust in poor service.  That makes it fairly easy to raise the bar and establish trust – consistently deliver good service within your niche and you will exceed expectations.  Consistency, no matter what else you bring to the market, is how trust is established.  When people believe they know what they are going to get, that expectation will either lead to sustainable business performance, or inevitable decline.

Did you like this post?

Sign up to receive email updates directly to your inbox:

Delivered by FeedBurner

  • http://twitter.com/chris_paulsen Christian Paulsen

    David-great post. I’d agree that consistently good service is better than being delighted one time and disappointed the next….

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Christian.

      Consistency is a good thing. I once worked with someone who set the “attaboy” to “oh damn” ratio at 1400:1. That is, it took 1400 good things to equal one bad thing. Customers like to know what they are getting – even if they deal with substandard service but good quality, they know what they are getting. If, by some chance, the service becomes excellent and in line with the quality, the result is likely to be one of suspicion. “What got into them today?” would be the likely response. If it doesn’t happen again, it will be considered a fluke or, what’s worse, people might start to wonder why it isn’t like that all the time, and then start to gravitate towards placew where it is…..

  • Robert Drescher

    Hi David

    Personally I feel delight is not
    something most organizations need to pursue, as for me delight is getting
    something better than I expected. Though getting some bonus is nice, it is far
    more important to me to get what I expect and want, nothing more. That may not
    create delight in me, but it does earn an organization, my respect and loyalty.

    I buy good products every week, not
    because they do something special, but simply because they do their job as
    described, and I know what to expect, personally it is far more important that
    an organization avoid disgusting me, that costs you my business. In fact most
    times the businesses that have delighted me are also the ones that disgusted me
    at sometime, and because of that I will avoid them in the future. There is a lot
    to be said for dependability; 90% of the products my family buys on a regular
    basis, either come from suppliers or brands, we see as reliable and dependable.
    After all a can of crushed tomatoes should be a can of crushed tomatoes and a
    package of penne pasta should be penne nothing more or less.

    Much of the waste in the auto
    industry comes from car companies trying to make some small group happy, by
    adding an option most of us have no need or desire for, than incorporating it
    and its associated costs into the cars the rest of us buy. Creating delight for
    one group often just creates disgust among others. While if they stuck to
    meeting our basic transportation needs, and forced the cost for the extras onto
    those groups that want them, they would achieve dependability and most of us
    would trust their products and buying a vehicle would again become a reflex
    action, like 90% of the products we buy. Fact is that majority of business
    transactions that occur each week, are based upon a positive trusting
    relationship, we consumers know who we trust either as a retailer, or a brand
    (surprise consistent unadvertised off brands are winning market share from big
    name brands because they are dependable). No amazement or delight required,
    just dependability and you win the consumers trust and loyalty, and that will
    make your bottom line better, and far more stable.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak


      Thank you very much for this well-thought out reply. My apologies for not replying in kind for so long. Seems I have some settings misapplied in Disqus.

      Dependability is the key to long-term, sustainable success. I believe that is every bit as true for individuals as it is for companies, too. While “Wow” factor can yield short term gains, those gains are quickly depleted if nothing else follows.

  • James Lawther

    A sadly true point David, you don’t have to be that good to be exceptional.

    Dominoes don’t exactly make the best pizzas in the world, but you know exactly what you are going to get and it will be quick


    • http://myflexiblepencil.com/about_davidk/ David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, James.
      There’s a niche for almost everything. Delivering to that niche, in the way they want, all the time, is what matters most. Sustained performance and loyalty comes about from knowing what you are getting. The best companies talk about their “formula” or “system” and do not deviate from it. A good example that comes to mind is the decline and re-emergence of McDonald’s over the past 10 years or so.