Last updated: February 23, 2022 Customer trust: A true definition, value, and 5 tips to earn it

Customer trust: A true definition, value, and 5 tips to earn it


Customer trust is earned, and not through passive means. Ask any rom-com, breakup song, or digital marketing publication to name the #1 key to a good relationship, and you’ll get the same answer: trust. For brands, building customer trust promises to be a holy grail of long-term revenue and loyalty. But consumer skepticism and the abundance of options make it feel elusive. What is customer trust, really? And how do you go about building customer trust?

Customer trust is trust. At its core, it’s no different from the trust you put in your personal relationships, your employer, or your go-to news publication. It’s the trust a customer puts in a business. Building customer trust is like any trust, you earn it and you have to work to protect it.

The real question is: what is trust?

Trust is belief in someone or something – belief that they will do what they say they will. According to one definition (yeah, let’s be those people), “If you trust someone, you believe that they are honest and sincere and will not deliberately do anything to harm you.”

Customer trust is the belief a customer has in a business.

The belief that companies will do what they say they will and that they won’t deliberately harm consumers.

Building customer trust, then, is walking the walk, talking the talk, and respecting that people are paying attention.

Two other tenets of trust are crucial to understanding its role in relationships, business or otherwise:

  1. Customer trust, like any trust, is earned. It’s not given, and it can’t be faked. It’s earned over time, through every interaction a customer has with your business, from small (e.g. Do I immediately regret giving you my email address?), to large (e.g. How did your company handle a critical data breach?). Every point of contact is a chance for building customer trust upon a strong foundation in the relationship, or chipping away at it.
  2. Customer trust can be broken. And it’s a lot harder to rebuild broken trust than it is to build it from scratch. Now, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never make mistakes. Some mistakes can be forgiven once trust is established. But also, an act doesn’t have to be nefarious – with a shifty-eyed villain twirling his mustache – to break it. “When that happens, we withdraw our energy and level of engagement. We go on an internal strike.

Why customer trust matters in business

Between technological advances like machine learning and artificial intelligence, and the proliferation of customer data, consumers today are putting more on the line than money: They’re sharing their personal data. What’s at stake – quite literally – are their identities.

In our increasingly data-driven world, that could have serious and far-reaching implications.

Customers are willing to share their data in exchange for better, more personalized customer experiences, and those experiences could translate to $87.5 billion in sales. But they will stop doing business with you entirely if you misuse or share that data without their consent.

In short: to compete, you need to deliver outstanding experiences. To do that, you need valuable customer data. And to get that, customers need to trust you.

5 tips for building customer trust: Be nice or leave

Of course, businesses can proactively work on building (or re-building) customer trust and being trustworthy.

Here are five examples of how to build trust in personal relationships, adapted for brands:

  1. Be honest and forthcoming
  2. Respect their boundaries
  3. Address conflicts clearly and healthily
  4. Walk the talk
  5. Give and take

Aladdin meme: Do you trust me?

  • Be honest and forthcoming with anything that impacts them: Transparency is huge when it comes to building customer trust. And consumers today are extremely well-versed in what solutions exist to protect them. Let them know what you’re doing, what protections you’ve put in place to prevent their data from being compromised.
  • Respect their privacy boundaries: Give customers control over how their data is collected, used, and shared. Make it easy for them to opt-in and opt-out at will (ideally, from a single spot). And then, honor those preferences.
  • Address conflicts clearly and healthily: Building customer trust requires that when it’s broken we fess up and promise to do better. Mistakes happen. When they do, own them and address them head-on. Don’t make light of a situation where your customers’ data may have been at risk; don’t ignore it in hopes that it will blow over. Equip your service staff to handle any questions clearly and directly, so your customers feel heard.
  • Walk the talk of customer trust: Trust is lost when your words and actions don’t match. The simplest solution? Authenticity and follow-through. If you say privacy is important to you, show it at every stage of the customer journey.
  • Remember relationships are a give and take: You can’t expect people to hand over the most important assets they have and get nothing in exchange. It’s on you to show how they benefit from sharing their data. Invest in stellar customer service or personalized campaigns. Acknowledge loyalty and show your appreciation – whether with big gestures or just by showing up day in and day out. As you are building customer trust, don’t let your customers feel taken for granted.

The future of business requires emotional intelligence

As business becomes more and more human every day, the nature of how we work is becoming more reliant on customer trust and emotional intelligence.

Establishing and maintaining customer trust is a long game. You can make a quick buck by taking advantage of customers’ trust, but you won’t earn repeat business (and the fallout could destroy your reputation).

And chances are, if you’re reading an article like this, you’re more interested in the long-term benefits than a short-term gain.

To succeed long-term, brands need to operate with empathy for their customers. That means not only getting to know them but respecting them and nurturing the relationship. Because business is personal.

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Emily Morrow

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