Thought leadership

Insights from the Nunwood Customer Experience Excellence Centre

 “Your amicable words mean nothing if your body seems to be saying something different” (James Borg).

In the first 4 seconds of meeting someone new the human brain has made 11 different judgments about the individual in question and has come to a broad view as to whether they can be trusted or not. As human beings we are remarkably adept at forming rapid trust judgments – it is what keeps us safe.

And so it is with consumers. At the very heart of consumer trust lies vulnerability and risk: the likelihood of being exploited and the size of the impact if you are, versus the size of the reward and the benefit of continuing with a course of action. These are calculations that every consumer makes, often subconsciously, prior to making a purchase or a re-purchase. As such, trust is the lens through which we view the other aspects of an experience.

Two sides of the same coin, Integrity and trust are deeply intertwined concepts and whilst it is not easy to separate them they do mean different things and are established in different ways. Integrity is an organisational way of being and acting that in turn creates trust – a willingness on behalf of the customer to engage in a ‘risky’ conversation with a provider.

Integrity precedes trust and trust precedes customer commitment.  Both are vital platforms for building a customer relationship. Indeed trust must be present before a customer commits to a relationship. As such it is an essential building block of world class experiences.

The Science

Trust is built slowly over time, interaction after interaction. Roy J. Lewicki Professor Emeritus from Ohio State University’s Fischer College of Business, a leading expert in trust and trust management suggests that “trust builds along a continuum of hierarchical and sequential stages, such that as trust grows to a higher level, it becomes stronger and more resilient and changes in character.”

He identifies that in the early stage of a relationship trust is “Calculus Based Trust (CBT)”, in other words an individual carefully calculates how the other party is likely to behave in a given situation and extend their trust only as necessary to achieve a positive outcome. It is a form of cognitive cost benefit analysis tempered by the risk of extending trust. Calculus Based Trust can be developed over time as the organisation manages its corporate reputation, consistently delivers on its promises and behaves in trustworthy ways.

However, as the parties come to a deeper understanding of each other through repeated interactions, trust grows to a higher and quantitatively different level – Identification Based Trust (IBT) where each party identifies with the goals and objectives of the other. This is a more emotionally driven bond which is often difficult to break. Trust violations in the CBT phase may be highly destructive to the future of the relationship, whereas they may not even be noticed in the IBT phase such is the level of forgiveness achieved through numerous positive interactions. In this phase the trust dividend is enduring loyalty.

This has a multitude of implications for how companies ‘on board customers’. Santander Bank realise just how important this is and give new customers to their 1,2,3, account what they call the “red carpet welcome” rapidly accumulating trust in the process. Singapore Airlines take great care over new or nervous passengers. First impressions count.xdf



Integrity and Trust – the Golden Rules

The analysis of our experience excellence database illustrates that trust will be built successfully if the following golden rules are followed:

Stand for something more than profit

Respondents continue to talk about M&S Foods Plan A; a demonstrative high profile commitment to the wellbeing of all of its stakeholders. Shoppers can effectively outsource their scruples to M&S knowing that those things that might disturb them about the produce are being managed in the most ethical of ways.

Some organisations have learnt to skillfully reinforce their integrity credentials as they react to market circumstance. USAA for example, when seeing growing discussion on up selling as a sales technique in financial services announced “we practice down selling, ensuring the customer only gets exactly what they need”.

In difficult times it can take big organisational actions to cut through the noise and resonate with the customer. A series of small steps may not be sufficient to break through the cycle of mistrust. Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins realised this when he publicly threw down the gauntlet to all 140,000 employees, telling them to behave in line with their defined values or leave the company.

For Air New Zealand it is essential Kiwiness reflecting their pride in their country of origin, for John Lewis it is never being “knowingly undersold”.

In this new world you have to nail your colours to the mast. “If you don’t stand for something – you will fall for anything.” (Malcolm X – American activist)

Demonstrably act in my best interest

Our American survey highlighted Charles Schwab the investment bank who ranked 45th in the 2015 US CEE. They first came to my attention several years ago, when I noticed that an unusual number of respondents to our US study were of the view that Schwab would always act in their best interest. It represented an extraordinary level of trust for a financial institution.

The employees at Schwab are thinking about the customer 24 hours a day. When they realised that peer to peer reviews and evaluations were increasingly used as a failsafe by consumers they took the unusual step of enabling clients to leave reviews, positive or negative on their web site.

It is an outstanding example of transparency and confidence.

Show concern for me as a person

At the day to day level trust is built in a myriad of small ways. There are a range of “signaling behaviours” which build a belief in the customer that the employee is concerned about their welfare and keen to do their best to help the customer achieve their objective. Listening intently, diagnostic probing techniques and showing understanding all signal to the customer they are important and valued.

First Direct are able to consistently deliver this feeling to their customers. They recruit from the caring professions and are very focused on the personality of potential recruits – answering the question “do they genuinely care about people?” positively is critical to being selected.

Do what you say you will

Behavioural integrity is the foundation upon which trust is built. Keeping promises and commitments, meeting deadlines and following through are prerequisites to a relationship based on trust in any walk of life. Congruence of word and deed is vital to employees at John Lewis – respondents frequently talk about how John Lewis employees always follow through on commitments, doing exactly what they said they would do.

Keep me informed

The advent of tracking technology has changed consumer expectations around being kept informed. Ocado has set new standards in this area, texting customers in advance with information about the delivery vehicle, the drivers name and contact details. Overcoming any concerns as to whether the person at your door is actually from Ocado or not. An estimate of the delivery time and any substitutions are also conveyed. All of which builds trust.

Be competent

Behavioural economics teaches us that we are naturally predisposed to trust experts. In many cases we are likely to trust proxies for experts, whether that is technology based or even a celebrity endorsement. Increasingly we obtain received trust as we scan reviews and referrals on the internet.

The ability for customers to rapidly increase their knowledge of a particular topic by searching the internet has led to escalating expectations of the level of knowledge they should expect from a salesperson. John Lewis staff are experts in their specific category areas. Vitally they offer their knowledge without expecting a sale in return. They see their mission as equipping the customer with all that they need to know to make an informed decision. The customer may go elsewhere but supported with the “never knowingly undersold” guarantee, why would you?

Similarly, Apple store have pioneered the concept of the Genius. Easily accessible and available to answer any query – no matter how trivial.

Our assessment of the competence of the person we are interacting with is critical to trust building.

Be likeable

Social psychologists talk about how social bonding techniques increase social capital. In other words we are more likely to trust someone who makes an effort to get to know us. Behavioural economics teaches us that we trust people we like and we like people who like us.

Trust is of course a two way street. It is one thing for a customer to trust an organisation and another thing for an organisation to trust its customers.

Amazon trusts its customers when they report non delivery, Marks & Spencer trust its customers to return garments in good order. Many companies, however, do not trust their customers and put in place procedures and barriers that affect all customers rather than just the small few worthy of mistrust.

This is about attitude, not actual behaviour. In the field of management theory, Theory X holds that employees are inherently lazy and cannot be trusted. This belief begets a particular style of management behaviour. Conversely, Theory Y holds that employees are ambitious, self-motivated and can be expected to exercise self-control, in other words they can be trusted.

In general terms organisations that practice Theory X or Theory Y get exactly the employees behaviours they predict. This theory can and should be extended to our beliefs about customers. Do we believe that customers are essentially honest and trustworthy or do we believe they will take advantage as soon as look at us?

The answer to this question drives the type of experiences you will create.

For more Golden Rules to the Six Pillars visit:

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