Trust. It's a word we use often, and a foundational concept that crosses every boundary of our lives -- personal, business, political, social, etc.
Researchers generally agree, and a Harvard University study confirms, that the tighter, and longer, the relationship, the greater the level of trust. This holds true, whether it's a personal relationship, or a business relationship.
In business, trust is often referred to as "social capital," because it is an intangible asset that can have long-lasting positive -- or negative -- effects on a a business' performance. Building, and maintaining, a high level of trust between a business and its customers should be top goal of any company.
Building trust takes time, and consistency. It's an organic process, and if managed carefully over time, can cover a wide range of sins, from temporary crisis to manageable mistakes.
Maintaining trust also takes time, and focus. Once trust is seen by a business as social capital, and a valuable asset (as opposed to simply a fuzzy, good-feeling concept), it becomes worth protecting.
An Inc. magazine article published today touches on this issue -- specifically, what are some common mistakes companies make that cause an erosion in trust?
In short, here they are:
- Jargon - use of hollow words or phrases that don't have specific meaning or value
- Lengthy agreements and contracts - speaks for itself
- Inside jokes and references - don't alienate your customers with communications that convey the idea that they are not part of your trusted circle
- Overly complex scenarios - assume that your customer knows less about your company product than you think, and communicate with them at that level
- Playing devil's advocate - An approach that immediately establishes a line in the sand and confrontational stance, and one that is bound result in loss of trust
The article goes on to outline specific ways to build trust with customers through better communication. Here are three specific tips:
Speak a common language.
Jargon and acronyms often create misunderstanding. This is amplified in a global economy with business partners of different languages and cultures. Use straightforward and direct terms to be understood and trusted.
Be simple and clear.
The best contract should be able to be understood by a high-school junior. I'm serious: If you want to understand how clear your language is, have a high-school junior or senior read the agreement and then tell you what it says. If they can explain the core of the agreement accurately, it passes the test.
Stop trying to translate idioms.
Every culture has its own expressions. But idioms are hard to translate and makes those who do not share the cultural reference feel isolated or confused. Rather than stumble through explanations, just avoid them in the first place.
Trust is an intangible, in the sense that you can't see it or touch it. But it's not hard to measure. A lower level of trust in your business will most surely result in lost customers, and revenue.