Customers don’t like businesses: they like the people (who are in the business). They like the way they are treated. They like how well their needs and wants are met. Marketing for trust isn’t a tactic. It’s a way to live that becomes a way to do business.

I see marketing from this two-way perspective: There is a “top-down” aspect where you and your company (the top) create and send out all the messages about who you are and what you do. There is also a “bottom-up” aspect where clients, customers and everyone in your circle of influence communicate who you and your business are, based on their experience and understanding of you. A business needs to be aware of and to consistently shape both “top-down” and “bottom-up”. Building trust with clients and customers is critical to your bottom-up marketing.


There are a ton of businesses doing it right, too. Every year MSCI ESG Research screens 5,500 publicly-traded North American companies to identify 100 that most “consistently demonstrates transparent accounting practices and solid corporate governance.” Basically, which companies are the most trustworthy. They are graded on a scale of 1 to 100, 100 being the most trustworthy. Those companies that got a grading below 70, although not technically bad, were not on the official list. The list was subdivided into groups of large cap companies (with market caps of $5 billion or more), mid cap companies (with market caps between $1 and $5 billion), and small cap companies (with market caps between $250 million and $1 billion).

The top four most trustworthy companies include Con-way (a mid cap railroad company), Equity Lifestyle Properties (a mid cap real estate company), Stepan Company (a small cap chemicals company), and Tower International (a small cap auto company). Companies all in very different industries, all very trustworthy.

So what makes a company reliable, genuine, and trustworthy? And what can a company do to build customer trust? I agree with Forbes that there are basically three things to build trust: 1) Service, 2) Consistency, and 3) Transparency.


1) Service

“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we'; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” –Peter Ducker, author of Managing for the Future

This team not only consists of employees and employers but the customer is a huge part of it too. Without the customers the company wouldn’t exist. To have the loyal customers, trust needs to exist. Trust is born through great customer service.

“Customer service extends beyond the product or service you sell – it is the end-to-end experience for your customer” –Customer Trust For Your New Business, Forbes

To better help your customers have the best experience, you can ask yourselves how you would want to be treated as a customer? What kind of service would you want? This is where responsiveness, timeliness, and exceeding expectations comes into play. Prove to your customer that your business is best to get a job done. Make it easy for customers to speak to your company, and take their feedback seriously. If you own a small business, get to know your customers personally. If you show you care, they will come back more and be more likely to recommend your products to others. You want the 59% of customers who would try a new brand or business “if it meant an improved customer service experience”. You can provide that excellent customer service.



A great example of listening to customers is told by Peter Shankman. While at an airport he realized that he needed to eat so that he didn’t travel on an empty stomach. He didn’t like fast food, so he “jokingly tweeted to one of his favorite restaurants, Morton’s, asking them if they would deliver his a steak.” To his shock and disbelief “one of Morton’s staff drove 23 miles to the airport to greet him [when he landed] with a full meal.” They had just won over a customer for life. Peter tweeted later:

“Customer service isn’t about telling people how awesome you are, it’s about creating stories that do the talking for you.” – Peter Shankman

They had not only had quickly read his tweet, but had responded within the two hour limit of his flight, showing everyone that they are the best to get the job done.

While there are many examples of large acts of customer service, the little ones mean so much and can keep a customer coming around for years after. After going to a mechanic, one customer received a hand written card that said “Thank you for giving us the chance to work on your car. I truly appreciate your business and I hope you were satisfied with the level of service we provided. Please don’t hesitate to call on us again.” The letter was sealed with a business card inside. One commenter who heard this story said “It’s little things like this that earn business. If I got this card I would never use another mechanic in my life.”

Be Consistent written on the road

2) Consistency

Consistency plays a big role in how you internally run your company, and it starts with how you train your employees.

“Internal expectations lead to external results” – Marjorie Adams, Forbes

They recommend that employees should be trained to give equal levels of service, answer questions the same way, and fulfill the expectations you have for them. Show consistency through your example. Perhaps, “if you miss a meeting without a good reason, don’t be surprised if they do the same.”



Another part of consistency is doing as you promise, being reliable. Especially in a new company, it is recommended to under-promise and over-deliver to wow your customers. First impressions are extremely important and your opportunity to tell your customers that you are consistent and trustworthy. Examples of companies that keep their promises are Geico whose “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance” promise actually is a reality, something that is easy to measure. Apple’s moto and promise is to “Think different.” They not only “guarantee to create products based on seeing the world a little differently,” but “promise to inspire their customers to do the same” {CCD}. Marriott promises “Quiet luxury. Crafted experiences. Intuitive service.” It doesn’t matter which Marriott hotel in the world you stay at, they all provide the same consistent, luxurious service.



3) Transparency

Customers are smart. They can figure out if you aren’t honest.

“If honesty is the best policy, they’ll appreciate and admire you more when you admit to a mistake, rather than playing games or even worse, avoiding the topic altogether” –Adams, Three Ways to Build Customer Trust

Honesty is a great way to build trust. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, is very transparent in his company, tweeting his employees about facility procedures so they know what’s going on behind the scenes {Forbes 4}. McDonalds and other restaurants strive to be more transparent by publicly displaying ingredient lists and calorie counts for their products.

“The people, when rightly and fully trusted, will return the trust.” – Abraham Lincoln

When customers trust you, they are more willing to write glowing reviews and testimonials. The cycle of reviews can be a valuable marketing procedure. A review can “attract new sales, which lead to fresh reviews, which lead to additional sales, and so on”. A Net Promoter Score is a leading indicator in growth to show companies how many customers could help a business grow. On average 80% of business comes from 20% of the trusting customers. How do we find those 20% and involve them? By asking them one simple question: “Would you recommend this product to others?” and have them rate their interest on a scale of 1 to 10. Those that have a score of nine or ten are the Promoters. They are the “loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others, fueling growth.” The Passives are those who score 7 to 8. They are “satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to competitive offerings.” Detractors score a zero to six and are the “unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede your growth through negative word-of-mouth.”

It doesn’t matter what kind of marketing you are doing these days. If you aren’t genuine, you’ll get passed by. SEO, Facebook ads, blogs, YouTube videos, press releases, billboards… it doesn’t matter. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. Do people trust your business?