How to Grow Customer Trust

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In today's world of ever-connected customers, companies that invest in building and maintaining trusted customer relationships enjoy long-term, sustainable success. Where does a company begin if it wants to activate a trust-building culture?

In an earlier column, "The (Priceless) Value of Trust" CRM, April 2014), we observed that companies rated "the most trusted" are often the most successful. These companies view every customer interaction from the customer's perspective—from the outside in. They see every experience as a chance to build and enhance a trusted customer relationship and spend as much time, money, and discipline doing this as they do creating new products and services. These companies earn trust over time, transforming themselves into trusted organizations.

Our subsequent column, "Serve Customers Better by Learning the Language of Trust" (CRM, July 2014), introduced the concept of using specific language to pull customers in to build trusted relationships rather than push them away. By using the language of trust, companies can more quickly establish a foundation upon which to build a trusted organization.

Now it's time to put trust into action. For many organizations, the first question is: Where do we begin if we want to activate a trust-building culture?

Across the globe, leaders of companies big and small are simplifying their brand messaging and inspiring stakeholders by aligning their companies around a simple statement of purpose.

Purpose-led companies are among the most trusted and successful in the world. Why? Because activating a purpose builds trust among stakeholders. Employees trust leaders who do what they say they will; customers trust companies that have a core belief (a purpose) that they also believe in; and partners and suppliers trust businesses that deal with them with transparency, authenticity, and integrity.

What is a purpose statement and how do you activate a purpose to build trust?

A purpose statement is an aspirational declaration that inspires a call to action. Its intent is to galvanize all of a company's stakeholders around a single belief to ignite long-lasting, positive change. A good purpose statement includes the following characteristics:

  • it is aspirational and belief-driven;
  • it is humanistic;
  • it is derived from and resonates with the company's values;
  • it is applicable to and shared with all stakeholder groups;
  • it is simple and easy to understand;
  • it states a long-term objective; and
  • it is action-oriented.

Bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, refreshing the world and inspiring moments of optimism and happiness, and accelerating the advent of sustainable transport are three examples of good purpose statements.

Activating a purpose means constantly evaluating and measuring every decision a company makes through the lens of whether it aligns with the company's purpose. If there is a gap, companies should rethink and re-engineer customer experiences and interactions to close it. This kind of "experience engineering" differs from engineering driven by efficiency, IT, quality, or process. Experience engineering focuses on the customer. The linear connection between purpose, customer experience, and building trusted customer relationships is key to transforming into a trusted organization.

Companies can take four simple steps to begin a purpose-led, trust-powered journey:

1. Create a clear, well-constructed purpose. Define a clear purpose and commit to activating it.

2. Activate the purpose. Look at how stakeholder experiences are perceived versus how they are executed.

3. Focus on building trusted customer interactions and experiences. Engineer experiences that are transparent and authentic and consistently meet customer expectations.

4. Sustain relationships over time. Measure the effects of activating purpose and trust and hold people accountable for achieving them.

Today's competitive environment requires more than a good product, price, or service to sustain long-term commercial success. Trusted companies are changing the world. Is there really another option?


Woody Driggs is the global advisory customer leader and a principal in Ernst & Young LLP's Advisory Services Performance Improvement practice. He is based in Washington, DC. Jeffrey Stier is an executive director in Ernst & Young LLP's Advisory Services Customer practice and is based in New York. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP.


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