“Trust is possibly THE business issue of the decade.” Thus began this week’s bi-weekly Inspiration e-newsletter from Customer Service World. The piece cited “five steps in trust-building” from David Maister’s book The Trusted Advisor.
The client’s attention becomes focused. You earn the right to tell and hear truths.
When done successfully, this is the stage in the process when the client comes to realize that the advisor understands him or her.
The root issue is stated openly. The client thinks “Yes, that is exactly the problem here…” This is usually the stage where the client becomes consciously aware of the value being added by the advisor.
A vision of a solution is sketched out. The client begins to feel “Could we really accomplish that? That could become a really interesting outcome.” You generate joint clarity of objectives.
Steps are agreed upon. A sense of commitment is renewed. Reaching this stage allows problem resolution to begin. The client’s mindset is “I agree. I understand what needs to be done. I’m with you. Let’s do it.”
Those are all good steps, but as tactical actions they are insufficient to achieve the end goal of trust. Granted that Maister’s Five Steps to trust-building are presented in the context of B2B relationships, I don’t see matters much differently than how we frame them in Firms of Endearment:
The Wisdom in not Focusing on Building Trust with Customers
We can’t tell you how many vision and mission statements we’ve seen citing building trust with customers as a primary objective. You’re not in business to build trust. Trust is not a primary objective. Serving customers beyond compare is. Customers reward the companies with trust and loyalty commensurate with the devotion the company gives to their well being.
L. L. Bean CFO Lee Surace is not your garden variety chief bean counter. He loves his company; he loves L. L. Bean employees; he loves everyone in the L. L. Bean economic ecosystem. And he loves his job, which he regards with almost priestly humility and reverence:
For me, this business is not all about money. You have a sense that you are really improving people’s life … When you become aware of the social responsibility that you have not only with your workers, but also with all your suppliers, vendors, customers and your community, you realize that this business is not about how much money you are going to make as a company.
The culture defined nearly a century ago by passionate outdoorsman L. L. Bean, named by the Wall Street Journal's as one of the Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the 20th century, remains intact today. Unlimited guarantees are part of that culture. As one story has it, several years ago a customer returned a threadbare coat bought in the 1950s and received a new one in exchange in fulfillment of L. L. Bean’s guarantees without time limits. The $1.5 billion outdoor equipment and apparel company, like the orchardist, tends to its stakeholders’ needs and interests and they in turn reward the family-owned company with loyalty and the means for continued growth and profitability. Unlimited guarantees say to customers, “We trust you.” Customers’ respond, “We trust you, too,” by giving the company their loyalty.
Trust building begins with a culture of trust. Trust is the fruit of relationship building that rests on high-grounded principles such as L. L. Bean’s culture embraces. Trust is a report card grade on how well you are meeting customers’ needs. But there is more … to be continued.