Before I get into the meat of this article, I feel it’s important to mention a couple of things. First, this article is not about how a small business owner can fake trust or how one can repair a marred reputation after unsavory business dealings have been brought to light.
Second, this article assumes small business owners are already committed to honesty and integrity in their personal and professional lives. The tips included here are meant to help you capitalize on that foundation.
Using these tips to generate a false sense of trust will very likely backfire. You have been warned.
Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dig into these five trust-building tips.
1. Ask for Client Testimonials
Resist the urge to make up names and stories. It can be easier than collecting real testimonials, and you might wonder what the harm is in creating a fake persona if you believe wholeheartedly that the stuff you’re writing is true. However, in addition to the possibility that a future client may want to actually speak to that person as a reference, you should remember that your clients are smart. No matter how clever you are, people can typically spot those fake testimonials from a mile away.
Use real testimonials from real customers. To get the best responses ask them to describe what they like about your product or service and to describe what aspects were the most beneficial to them. Even if you already have permission to use their testimonials on your marketing collateral, you should give them the opportunity to approve any edits you make.
2. Give Them Something for Nothing
No, I’m not suggesting you give away freebies as bait every time someone walks through the door. In fact, if you did that you might raise an eyebrow or two and cause people to wonder just what you were up to. What I am suggesting is that you make a real effort to be helpful — whether it leads to a sale or not.
Whether you offer a white paper that gives free advice or you help a customer troubleshoot a problem unrelated to your business, people will start talking about your willingness to share your knowledge for free. They will also start thinking of you as their expert and go-to guy.
3. Make it Easy to Get in Touch
We all wish we could hide from the complaints sometimes. They’re just no fun. But making yourself available to customers in a number of different ways reassures them that you care about their happiness. As a customer, I can assure you there is nothing more infuriating than running into a problem with a product and not being able to find — at the very least — a customer service phone number or email.
Be overly transparent and put contact information in all the right places: website, business cards, brochures and newsletters. When you speak to clients, assure them that you are available if they ever have questions or concerns. Encourage them to come to you first with a complaint, and they will. Then give them the opportunity to reach out to you in the way they prefer, whether that is in-person, on the phone, via email, snail mail or online.
4. Limit the Customer’s Risk
In order for customers to part with their money, they need to feel relatively assured that they are not being ripped off. One way to make customers feel more secure in their business dealings with you is to offer them a remedy should something go wrong.
Warrantees, guarantees, refunds and return policies should be established from the beginning to limit the customer’s sense of risk. Policies like this should benefit the customer, and any restrictions on returns and refunds should be applied out of necessity — not as a way to discourage customers from seeking resolution.
5. Be a Real Person
My final tip is to share a little bit about you with your customers and clients. You could be striking up a conversation at an industry convention or writing an about page for your website — whatever the case, tell your customers a little bit about who you are and how you came to operate the business you own today.
There is no need to over-share or give away every private detail of your life, but when you mention that you studied at the local university or volunteer at the local park, customers will feel connected to you. On the flip side, if you’re too quiet or overly protective of the smallest details, people may assume you’ve got something to hide.
With these five steps, any business owner can win the trust of customers, business partners and their communities, and trust is one of the most vital tools a business owner has for building a successful operation and working towards expansion.
It’s entirely possible to give things away for free while setting the expectation that you’re going to charge them for something later down the road. Giving away information for free establishes your bona fides, but, at the same time, there are many people who will pay for either a) convenience or b) customization. Playing cloak and dagger with your information will only create suspicion that you can’t actually deliver the goods.