Show, don’t tell.

I recently spent a week conducting internal interviews with a client whom we were onboarding for marketing services. I love these interviews, but I learned early on that they rely on trust to work. Many people hear the word “interview” and think “interrogation.” When I tell them I’m going to be working through a list of questions with them, they start worrying that they’ll say the wrong thing. I once had someone ask if they could do the interview another day because answering questions was making them feel too anxious.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking the structure in order to help the other person feel more at ease. When I do my job right, my reward is a pleasant conversation in which I get to hear about how another person makes their living. So I start with something easy and practical (“Tell me about your job. What do you do in your day-to-day?”), and move from there into descriptive questions (“Tell me about your customers. How would you describe them? What are their pain points? How do you help them?”).

I always save the emotional, brand-related questions for the end, once my interviewee has had time to settle in and get comfortable. These are questions like “What opportunities do you see for the brand? Where do you hope it will go?” or “What words or phrases do you associate with the brand? When you think of the brand, what comes to mind?”

One of the last questions I ask is: “What are the key beliefs or lived values of your organization?”

Now, we have great clients. I know, because I get to hear how their team answers this question. It’s not always easy to tell a stranger what you really think about the company you work for—that’s why I work so hard to build trust. But I also believe what they tell me, because by that point in the interview, the trust is mutual.

And, while the specifics change from brand to brand, there are often some common themes. I hear things like:

  • The people here are like family. I can’t tell you all the ways my team has my back.
  • I’ve never known a company that goes above and beyond for their customers as much as they do. I know it sounds cliché, but they really care!
  • Integrity is important to us. We always want to keep our word. I wish our customers understood how much they can trust us to have their interests at heart.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you feel the same way about your company—and you’re likely facing the same problem: you want more people to trust you. But how?!

Well, like the rapport I build in my interviews, trust takes time. You can’t force it, but you can earn it. (Here’s how.)

1. Open up about your process—and your people.

I’m a bit of a sucker for behind-the-scenes videos. I find that there’s something undeniably mesmerizing about watching a process unfold, and if the popularity of cooking shows and maker channels is any indication, I’m not alone. This content is also something I’m quick to look for on company websites. Do they have a video I can watch that shows me, in just a few minutes, who they are, what they do, and how they do it? Yes? Golden.

Seeing someone’s process is also reassuring for many people—which is one of the sneaky little secrets about building trust. If you want people to trust you more, don’t make trust a requirement.

We like to be as up front as possible about our methods. When our clients know what to expect, it helps them trust the results we give them. If someone asks us “how did you come to this conclusion,” we want to be able to lay our process out on the table in front of them. We don’t want it to seem like we pulled answers out of thin air.

Highlighting your team is another important way to build trust. People like knowing that when they call your office they’ll be speaking with Heather—not some faceless corporate mouthpiece. Furthermore, if you’re the kind of company where the team members on camera are likely to be the same people your clients interact with in person, it can subtly reinforce trust for audiences when those interactions line up.

How do you showcase your process and your people?

  • Replace stock photos with original photography of your team.
  • Create videos that give an inside look at your organization.
  • Talk about your work in detail, especially through case studies.
  • Engage your team on your company blog. Publish articles from specific people.
  • Be authentic on social media.

2. Take the time to educate.

Many of our customers work in complex industries. Their customers are coming to them with needs that require technical expertise to solve, and that knowledge is often beyond the scope of the customer’s training. Understandably, this knowledge imbalance is a breeding ground for suspicion.

The best way to address it is with education. An informed customer is an empowered customer, and an empowered customer is one who will walk into a meeting with you feeling confident in their decision to sign a contract with your company. And if you’re the source of the information that has given them this confidence, winning that customer over to your brand is a battle half won before they even walk in the door.

How do you educate your audience?

  • Keep track of your internal/industry jargon and make sure it’s not obscuring your message.
  • Pay attention to industry developments and offer your perspective on your blog.
  • Use your content marketing channels to address common questions, points of confusion, or misconceptions.
  • Build a resource library where your audiences can find answers.
  • Follow an internal linking strategy for your content that makes it more discoverable.

3. Be transparent with your reviews.

This topic is a little niche, but I’m going to address it anyway, because it’s a common point of concern for businesses who deal in industries where they may have negative reviews show up in places like Yelp, Google, or Facebook. Their concern is: What do I do about negative reviews or angry comments on my social media accounts?

In some cases, such as when a customer is being abusive, deleting a review is the correct option—but this shouldn’t be a default option. It’s true that some people will only scan how many stars you have and move on, but someone who only has 5-star reviews also looks suspicious. A few negative reviews in a sea of positive ones will actually reinforce trust.

For those who do read the reviews, the unreasonable ratings are easy to spot. And if you’re seeing consistent bad reviews, that’s probably a sign that you have something you need to fix. The bottom line here is that bad reviews don’t feel great, but it’s important to take them in stride and not fixate on them needlessly. Handled correctly, they can even be a point in your favor!

How can a bad review be a transparency victory?

  • Where possible, respond to comments and see if it is possible to resolve the complaint. Publicly turning an angry customer into a satisfied one is a PR victory.
  • Is the bad review helpful? “I love these shoes but they run narrow so order a size up” is actually a great review, even if it’s not five stars.
  • Are other customers responding? If satisfied customers are directly referencing dissatisfied ones in their own reviews, that’s also a win for your brand.

4. Listen to your customer’s interests and respect their boundaries.

You might mean well, but trust is built on more than good intentions. Your clients need to know that you’re not just a bunch of nice people trying your best, but a company that can actually satisfy their needs. If all their feedback goes in one ear and out the other, then you may find that they trust you to walk their dog, but not to solve their problems or deliver on a multimillion dollar contract.

Of course, there are many ways to demonstrate to your customers that you’re keeping their interests at heart, and your marketing is a key place to do so. If you’re letting the feedback from your current customers inform your broader messaging, you’ll not only attract new customers who are a better fit, you’ll also show current customers that their input was valued.

At the same time, it’s important to make sure that your marketing efforts don’t go too far. As important as customer feedback is, burdening your customers with lengthy surveys or tapping them too many times for input can wear them down. After a while, your pleas for feedback become needy, and you start losing the good will you worked so hard to gain.

Your best strategy is to keep your feedback mechanisms simple and unobtrusive. For instance, a “tell us how we did” star rating at the end of certain interactions can make it easy for customers to give a quick answer without interrupting their day. An even better approach is to have a system in place for keeping track of voluntary feedback, like what you hear in customer service calls or on social media.

How do you listen to your customers and respect their boundaries?

  • Send out (brief!) satisfaction surveys and include an open feedback box.
  • Keep track of frequently asked questions and/or customer service complaints, and make a plan for addressing them.
  • Pay attention to feedback you receive on social media and collect actionable ideas.
  • Make time in any regular client meetings to open the floor for their concerns.
  • Give your audience an easy way to opt out of your marketing.
  • Keep your feedback mechanisms reasonable. Don’t keep asking for more.

If “Trust” is one of your stated values, then your customers will notice when you live by it.

I’ll close on this note: anxiety is one of the fastest ways to kill trust, because it communicates a lack of trust on your part. You don’t trust your customers to understand your message, or you don’t trust them to make the right choices, or you don’t trust them to recognize the difference between you and the competition.

And it’s true that some of your audience won’t pick up what you’re putting down. Maybe they do choose your competitor over you. If that’s the case, they probably weren’t going to become your customer in the first place, and hammering home the “you should really trust us more than them” message isn’t going to change that.

So if trust is a value you live by, then you can begin by extending that trust to your clients.

Over the course of our business, we’ve made some bold claims, but we’ve always been up-front with our rationale and with evidence that our processes work. We trusted our clients to follow our line of reasoning.

We’ve spent hours learning about our clients, their audiences, and their business, and trusted them to be forthcoming about their needs.

We’ve even had to report on some uncomfortable metrics. We trusted our clients to have faith in us even when the news we were delivering wasn’t what they hoped to hear, and that trust paid off in long-term, productive relationships and a portfolio of clients we enjoy working with because we know the respect runs both ways.

So if you want your clients to trust you, practice what you preach. Your customers will feel the trust you place in them, and respond in kind.

Published 09/19/22 by Laura Lynch