By Matt Everard

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all businesses are in need of customers. However, some customers are more valuable than others. As many surveys attest, repeat customers are the key to turning a sizeable profit:

The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% – Marketing Metrics.

It costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one – Bain & Company.

The most effective way to attract profitable repeat customers is to build trust.

The Key Components of Trust

To build customer trust, you must weave two main values into the fabric of your business – honesty and reliability.

1. Honesty

Honesty is an important foundation for any relationship, and customer relations are no exception. If a customer is paying you for goods or services, they should be able to trust you to meet their expectations.

Always be honest about the quality of your products and services. If you package cheap items as high-quality goods, you may well turn a quick profit. However, this is not a sustainable business model, as you will lose repeat customers.

If you want to encourage customers to return, you should also stay clear of misleading or underhand sales tactics. It may be tempting to trick unsuspecting shoppers into spending more than they intended, but it will almost certainly be the last purchase they make.

2. Reliability

Reliability is the true hallmark of a successful business. In order to attract repeat customers, you must provide excellent service at all times. Just one negative experience can shake customer loyalty – or dislodge it entirely.

Consistency is vital. Create a comprehensive customer care policy, and ensure that each employee is aware of it. Similarly, you must never promise something you can’t deliver. Honouring your commitments is crucial – if, for example, you offer next-day delivery, make sure your customers receive their orders the next day.

Mistake Management

In an ideal world, businesses would deliver a consistently good service to each customer. However, no system is completely infallible, no matter how thoroughly it was conceived.

How you deal with complaints can have a big impact on customer trust levels. Develop a solid ‘mistake management’ plan, for those times when you haven’t lived up to customer expectations:

  • Admitting to your mistake is the first step. Never pass the blame on to the customer, even if you feel they are at fault.
  • Once you’ve accepted responsibility, you should immediately apologise for any inconvenience caused
  • Sometimes, an apology isn’t enough to placate an irate customer. Set yourself apart from other companies – offer a conciliatory gesture along with your apology.

The X Factor

Making your customers feel valued as individuals is one of the best ways to build trust. This customer service ‘X Factor’ can’t be faked – you must be completely authentic.

If you own a physical store, remembering the names and orders of your regular customers is an excellent trust-building exercise.

If you have access to the personal details and email addresses of your regular clients, consider sending out small gifts or money-off vouchers on special occasions.

Online Trust

Many businesses also have an online presence. It’s important to build trust here too, particularly if your customers can make purchases through your website:

  • Don’t bombard your customers with emails. A weekly or monthly newsletter is acceptable – a daily bulletin crammed with sales copy is not.
  • If you have access to customer contact details, don’t betray their confidence. Selling phone numbers and email addresses to marketing companies might be profitable in the short term, but it is also one of the quickest ways to lose customer trust.
  • Customers are more inclined to trust a company if it has a human ‘face’. Consider creating a ‘meet the team’ page on your website, incorporating staff photos and profiles.
  • Email is often the cheapest and most convenient way to deal with customer queries. However, it’s also one of the most impersonal methods of communication. Installing a dedicated ‘customer care’ phone line – staffed by a real person – is a great way to build trust.
  • Many companies deliberately make their contact details difficult to find. Although you’ll receive fewer questions and complaints, this doesn’t portray a trustworthy image. Make sure your contact details are displayed prominently on your website.

What other things do you do in your small business to build a trust-based relationship with your customers?