Five practices that help reinforce trust and build long-term customer relationships

By Vidya Vasudevan, Head, Zoho Community

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Trust is a valuable currency in business. Businesses need to build long-term, meaningful relationships with customers, not merely to retain existing customers or gain new ones.

Factors like global accessibility, a profusion of choices, the impact of AI, and competitive pricing make it difficult for a business to set itself apart. Today’s customers are more enabled and empowered to make buying decisions based on their analysis and assessments. This changes the game altogether. Building trust becomes critical to cut through these challenges and build lasting relationships.

To earn the customers’ trust, businesses need to rise above the din and be seen as a brand that can be trusted despite its limitations; to let go of some poor practices and embrace good ones.

1. Put people before tools and processes

Trust and loyalty cannot be earned using sophisticated tools and layers of processes. There are real people on either side—customers and customer-facing employees. When a business really prioritises earning customers’ trust, a culture of empathy and forthrightness must be seeded and encouraged among the employees first. This translates into empathetic and honest engagement with customers. It lays a solid foundation on which great customer relations are built and trust is established.

Contrary to popular belief that customers prefer engaging with businesses in their region or speaking only their language, customers care more about businesses that prioritise transparency, security, privacy, honesty, and open communication channels. The real barriers in business are apathy and one-solution-fits-all kind of templated responses that are lacking in engagement. No amount of tools, automation, or AI can replace a human-centric approach. It is crucial to know when human interactions should take over automated interactions for continued customer engagement.

2. Make customer engagements a cross-departmental function

Fostering access and communication between the customers and the brand across varied departments is a great way to forge and retain trust. Gone are the days when it was enough for only the sales or support functions to interface with the customers. By removing the barriers and putting the other functions in touch with the customers, businesses will be able to ensure transparency and improve their understanding of customers’ needs. The more “brand people” a customer is connected to, the deeper the trust gets and the higher the customer relationship reaches.

3. Get customers accustomed to a company’s culture

Customers who stay with a brand for the long haul are also those who are familiar with a company’s culture. Over time, they understand the language a brand speaks, they understand the limitations, and they align their expectations accordingly.

The relationship here is like a marriage; despite the pits, bumps, and bends, the customers and the brand make it work because they are more accepting of each other. During a flawed experience, customers deeply appreciate it when the business approaches the issue objectively instead of becoming defensive, takes the time to understand their viewpoint, and then goes all out, to the best of their capability, to re-build that trust. Once customers know that the business has given it their best shot and learned from the experience, it organically becomes better for both entities, the next time around. The maturity that comes with a trusting relationship instills this confidence in each other, be it good times or bad.

4. Never undermine customers’ intelligence

When it comes to customer relationships and establishing trust, it is more important to understand what not to do. The old idea of “the customer is always right” is no longer about placating or acquiescing to a customer. Customers make well-informed decisions and understand what a fair ask is. They know what they sign up for and don’t like their abilities to be undermined by the businesses they are dealing with.

Because they have several options to choose from, they are in no rush to go through a sale and can even leave halfway if they are unsatisfied with certain aspects of a business. It could be a sale or support experience gone sour, a case of misaligned expectations, or a lack of personalisation—all of which lead to distrust. More than these factors, what irks customers is challenging their abilities to see through the jargon and ambiguity, a lack of forthrightness in communication, setting false expectations, and not admitting to an oversight.

5. Stay meaningfully engaged throughout a customer’s journey

Transactional engagements, such as during pre-sale, post-sale, or support communications, are short-lived and don’t create the space necessary to build a relationship or retain trust. Businesses must continue to provide value after the initial purchase. Creating several avenues to stay contextually connected with the customers makes the engagements non-transactional and creates value for them. Traveling with the customers through all of the stages of their journey is representative of a brand’s commitment to building long-term relationships and trust. This is best done by setting up communities around a brand that bring together all of the customers, experts, and the brand. To bridge the gaps between the business and its customers, you need to constantly be looking out for what they need to solve and helping them solve it by enabling self-help, peer learning, and knowledge sharing by experts.

Customer-first, at all times

Building trust is a worthwhile pursuit because it is immensely gratifying to have earned it by prioritising the right business values. Sometimes, a business must even be ready to let go of some customers by prioritising their needs (that the business cannot meet) over earning revenue. That truly is putting the customers first and earning their trust.

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