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