Do you trust your customers and clients?

Trust begets trust

Last weekend my wife, Maggie, and I stopped by our local Lowe’s home improvement warehouse in search of some spring plants to hang on our porch. By the time we made it out to the garden center, we’d already filled our shopping cart with a few unrelated items from inside the store. We browsed the adjacent outdoor garden center but were unable to find exactly what we were looking for. We wanted to exit that area and see the expanded selection in the parking lot and on the front sidewalk. I parked our semi-full cart in the garden center as we prepared to exit and asked a cashier if it would be OK to leave it there while we shopped outside the traditional store boundaries. The cashier said, “Actually, you can just take your cart with you into the parking lot, if you’d like.”

A policy of mistrust

Our Lowe’s experience got me thinking about the psychology of trust – specifically the trust that exists (or fails to exist) between businesses and consumers. I’ve noticed that merchants typically have policies on one end of the spectrum or the other – sometimes written, but usually implied. While some companies are as trusting as Lowe’s, many create policies that clearly demonstrate their mistrust of consumers.

On our way to Lake Anna, VA, one summer day, we stopped by a deli to grab some breakfast sandwiches. We were jolted when we heard the owner yelling across the store at a patron, “No, no, no, no, no!” The patron, who appeared to be a construction worker, was at the ice machine dispensing ice into a plastic bag – seemingly in order to cover his Styrofoam-enclosed lunch in that bag. The man was clearly embarrassed and unaware that he’d been doing anything “wrong.”

When he finished scolding his customer, the owner barked at his employees for allowing such a practice. (He wasn’t about to give away ice for free.) Then he grabbed paper, a permanent marker and prepared a sign that said, “Ice for Sodas Only!”

All too often business owners create rules for the 1% who are – or who might be – “misbehaving,” thus demonstrating mistrust to the other 99% of us who never will. Those actions, rules and policies communicate a clear message: “Sorry, but our policy is to not trust you.”

In business, actions speak louder than words. Even if a business doesn’t formally exhibit such mistrust (e.g., a wall sign), its culture and actions communicate it all the same, and the company ends up suffering.

Trust begets trust

A company that maintains a culture of trust sets a positive tone and communicates a positive message: “We believe that people are good and trustworthy.” This attitude has the power to permeate everything a company does. Trust has a profound impact on your company’s culture and your brand’s perception in the marketplace.

A funny thing happens when we expect our clients to be honest – not only do they usually fulfill our expectations, they also become more trusting of – and loyal to – us. (Note to the skeptics: Don’t let one “bad apple” spoil your perception of the whole “bunch.”)

Bottom Line: Trust begets trust. Once you’ve earned the trust of your customers and clients, price becomes less relevant. Additionally, you will be creating more raving fans and that segment of your clientele is responsible for a whopping 80-90 percent* of your referral business. Trust not only creates profit, trust builds a rewarding and positive culture among your team and with your customers.

Trust is ultimately profitable: Just ask companies like Amazon, Costco, Lowe’s,, or FedEx. These companies all do a wonderful job of demonstrating trust and the positive ramifications of this trust (including profitability) are immeasurable.

  • Do you trust your customers and clients?
  • How are you demonstrating that trust?
*The Ultimate Question, by Fred Reichheld


  1. Steve – what a great lesson and message. This post will likely be shared many times over. This doesn’t mean I should “trust” the bunnies when we plant our garden, right? I mean, I can still put a fence around the garden, right?

  2. @Ian: I’ve learned a couple of things: don’t eat the yellow snow … and don’t trust the bunnies.

  3. Great post Steve!!!

  4. I am a bit hesitant to accept this as true. If what you are saying is true then you are implying that the business, that exists for no reason other than to make a profit, will generate profits from trusted customers that will exceed the losses from “customers” that misuse that trust or are already stealing from the retail business. Also, Zappos was recently the victim of a scheme that pilferred the payment info of MANY customers.
    While I, as an upstanding citizen, like the idea of trust, inherent human nature is not to be trustworthy. Human nature takes when it is available.

  5. @Mina: thanks!

    @john: Interesting points. When you consider the bigger picture, a trusting/positive/fair/welcoming corporate culture does wonderful things for one’s brand image. And a healthy brand image leads to profitability. The main point I’m hoping to share is that trust begets trust (and mistrust often begets mistrust).

  6. Cynthia Adler says

    Steve – SO true! Real story… Years ago when Katie was a baby, I first visited Small Change Children’s’ Consignment Shop in Lake Anne in Reston, VA. After selecting a large pile of like-new baby clothes and taking them to the register, I was told by the owner “Sorry, no credit cards. Cash or check only.” I apologized for having neither, and started to return the items to the racks. “Oh, don’t worry about it!” The owner replied. “Take everything, and when you get home, just mail me a check for what you owe.” I couldn’t believe it. Granted, the items were on consignment so she had no cost of goods, but she was gambling with her consignors’ trust if they didn’t get paid for their items. Then you know what else she said? “I’ve been in business in this location for over 20 years. I’ve done this lots of time, and I’ve never, ever had a customer NOT mail me a check. People are good, and they want to do the right thing. I trust you.” I became a loyal customer from that moment on, and even now that we’ve outgrown her shop, I stop by when I’m at Lake Anne to say hi to Susann (She’s still there, 12 years later). Trust is a valuable asset that can make or break you, especially for a small business like hers.

  7. What a great story, Cynthia. Susann is setting such a great example. Thank you for sharing this!

  8. What a wonderful, compelling and uplifting post, Steve. Thanks for shining a light on the value of having the courage to trust one another.


  1. | D2E Blog says:

    […] your customers that you trust them and they will begin to trust you. Too many customer “Policies” have been written based on the […]

  2. […] Impeccability begets trust. […]

  3. […] Yes, a few customers may take advantage of your company’s trusting good nature, but don’t punish the other 99% of your customers with long lists of rules and policies that were written with the 1% in mind. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Make it easy to do business with you. Besides, trust begets trust. […]

  4. […] Give your customers and clients the benefit of the doubt. Most people are honest, and they deserve that this be assumed of them. […]

  5. […] has in your company and in you strongly outweighs the techniques you use to sell. Establishing trust is better than any sales […]

  6. […] you want to attract trustworthy customers, you might first demonstrate that your default setting is to trust […]

  7. […] When you mistrust your customers, you’re creating an “Us vs. Them” environment with policies and behaviors that follow closely behind — none of which are customer centric. Trust begets trust. […]

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