Serve Customers Better by Learning the Language of Trust

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Every customer or client interaction can be seen as an opportunity to build or erode trust. Is this something ingrained in the culture of your employees on the front lines with your customers? And how about you—have you considered that every client interaction is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken a relationship? If you had the option in your next encounter with an associate, would you choose to weaken your relationship or strengthen it? The natural answer is to strengthen it. That makes sense; we all know that building strong relationships leads to positive results.

Somewhere in our subconscious, we all keep score on our personal and professional relationships. We have our own criteria, tests, and thresholds that determine how much we trust each other. Trust is earned through a series of experiences during which you pay attention to what the other person is saying (or leaving out) and respond in a way that satisfies his or her needs. The crucial first impression sets the foundation, and each subsequent interaction builds upon it. Once you've built a trusted relationship, you have a solid structure with the integrity to withstand ups and downs.

While most of us would choose to strengthen a relationship and build trust rather than erode it, we often point to the behavior of the other party when the relationship equation doesn't add up. But what some people fail to consider is how their own behavior contributes to the lack of relationship-building and, ultimately, trust-building.

How do organizations and their employees become more attuned to the language of trust? According to J. Mitchell Perry, a psychotherapist and performance consultant with nearly 40 years of experience, there are three steps.

1. Ask, Don't Tell

The more avenues we have to communicate with one another, the less we listen. In our increasingly digital world, it is easier than ever to push messages out, telling customers what to think or buy.

Instead of pushing messages out, draw customers in. Engage them in conversation, especially through social media. Ask what's on their minds, how they feel about a product or service, and what issues they may be having. Being asked questions makes customers feel heard and understood. If you seek to understand their point of view, they will be more accepting of what you have to say.

2. Learn How People Are "Wired"

Each of us receives and transmits information differently. To communicate effectively with your customers, you will want to learn their "access codes." Perry talks of eight basic access codes that reveal how each person is wired. These codes are:

  • Going toward versus going away
  • Trust versus suspicion
  • Strategic versus tactical
  • Warm-up versus direct
  • Empower versus control
  • Others versus self
  • Feelings versus fact
  • Process versus results

Understanding these codes will give you the key to understanding your customers. Once you know how they like to receive information, you can adapt your language to theirs, creating more positive experiences.

3. Use Inclusive Language

How many times have you heard someone say "No problem" in response to a request? For many, the use of such exclusive language is innate. "I can't promise anything." "I don't want to do that." "I won't believe it until I see it." "I've never heard that before." Now, what if we turned these phrases around?

I can't promise anything: I'll do my best.

I don't want to do that: I would prefer to do something else.

I won't believe it until I see it: I want to see it to believe it.

I've never heard that before: That's new to me.

No problem: It's my pleasure!

Using inclusive language reduces resistance in customers. When language is inclusive, they feel unconsciously inclined to agree.

Ask questions instead of telling, and communicate using access codes and inclusive language. By learning the language of trust, your organization can more quickly establish the foundation upon which to build your reputation as a trusted company.

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 a principal in the Global Customer practice of Ernst & Young LLP. He 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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