The Trust Deficit

Barrett Rossie

Does your company or brand earn your customers’ trust every day?  If it doesn’t, you’ve got problems that transcend marketing and marketing messages.

Do you trust the Better Business Bureau? Watch the video before answering.

Trust issue #1: Performance

I had a client in the telecom business who told me that the problem with his customers (already a bad start, isn’t it?) was that they blamed him and his phone systems every time phone service went down due to the Internet service provider. Well now. If my system went down every week, I’d blame the guy who advised me to buy it, too.

Trust issue #2: Communicate with respect, not intimidation

There’s a guy on the radio who exhorts listeners to refinance today because rates may never be this low again. He’s been saying the same thing for years. The tone and the idea is to make people feel stupid if they don’t call. Why should anyone like or trust this guy or his company?

Trust issue #3: Conflicts of interest

Did you know that the Better Business Bureau is funded by the companies it rates? A conflict of interest in any book. Maybe it was a necessary model 20 years ago, but not today. Knowing this, why would anyone trust the BBB endorsement? Wouldn’t you feel the opposite of trust?

I’ve worked for ad agencies that clearly put their own agenda ahead of clients’ interests. “You must be willing to take a chance,” is often their motto. Easy to say when you’re playing with other people’s money, and the only guarantee is a media commission. Any wonder so few agencies have the trust of the companies they seek to work with?

Trust issue #4: Clarity in pricing

You don’t need to see United Breaks Guitars to lose trust in the airlines. How can you trust any company with pricing structures so byzantine that even their own reservations agents are befuddled? How many airlines do you implicitly trust to do the right thing? I can think of one.

Have you caught on to how the mega-supermarkets are disguising price increases? When this week’s sale item goes back to the “regular” price next week, it will be 10-15% higher than before the sale. No wonder everyone wants a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood.

Have you tried to register a domain name at GoDaddy? There are so many offers that you must explicitly turn down, that by the time you’re ready to check out, who knows how much you’ve agreed to spend. It’s really a shame, because their customer service people can be great. You have to guess they’re pretty embarrassed by their bosses’ irritating and untrustworthy sales tactics.

Trust issue #5: Outrageous exaggeration

The Chevy Volt was going to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon. That was when it was in the free-publicity and government-funding stage. Now that it’s actually here, it gets the equivalent of 60 miles per gallon. Not bad, but do you really trust a company that exaggerates its value proposition by nearly 400%?

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Trust isn’t all that hard. The formula consists of honesty, effort, performance, good nature and a consistent story. The mix differs from industry to industry. But for goodness sake, don’t game your customers. Word will get around and no amount of “marketing” will fix the problem.


5 Responses to “The Trust Deficit”

  • Cynthia Says:

    Awesome post! So well written and on point. You remind me of Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. Trust is earned. I think when a person or a business enters into any relationship, it has to do so based on things other than trust … credibility and past history, things that are the by-products of trust.

    Thanks for this post.

    • Barrett Rossie Says:

      Cynthia, you’re quite welcome and thanks for the kind words! The level of trust a business inspires has a huge effect on the marketing message. I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredibly trustworthy clients (See’s Candies for instance) and some not so much. So I’ve seen both sides.

  • Lex Matteini Says:

    More from the telecom indusry … that’s where I learned how much competition breeds dishonesty. You think, my competitor bullshits people, so I need to bullshit people too, so as to not be at a total disadvantage. Maybe I don’t have to bullshit them as MUCH as my competitor, but I do have to bullshit them SOME. And so it goes … everybody gets saved by astericks, legal departments, and slimy convention, the young execs learn from the veterans, and the wheel goes round and round …

  • Barrett Rossie Says:

    I know some nice people in telecom, Lex. You’re right, it’s cutthroat, and there’s a big inclination to promise the moon.

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