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Are customer testimonials effective for building customer trust?

Learn which type of customer testimonial is the most effective for building customer trust and get other strategies for building the trust of customers.

What are some strategies we can use for building our customer's trust in our product? I've heard that customer testimonials are effective; do you agree? Do you have any additional suggestions?
Yes, I agree that customer testimonials are effective in helping to build a customer's trust in a brand. However, some types of testimonials are more effective than others. When you see a television commercial with "real customers" endorsing a product, that's one kind of persuasion. If you get a recommendation from a friend who uses a product, then that's an entirely different (and vastly more powerful) kind of persuasion. Your "word-of-mouth" reputation among customers is by far your most valuable asset as a brand.

Trust boils down to two basic issues: intent and competence. In order for a customer to trust you, he or she first has to be confident that you have good intentions – that is, that your objective is to act in the customer's best interest and view things from the customer's perspective. If a customer thinks your actions are motivated solely by your own interest in a profit, then he won't trust you. Charles Green, who wrote the book The Trusted Advisor, maintains that a customer's willingness to trust your firm is inversely proportional to the amount of "self interest" he perceives in you. The more self-interest he detects, the less trust he has.

However, even if a customer thinks your intentions are good (that is, that you will try to act in the customer's own interest), he will still only trust you if he also thinks you have the basic competence to act effectively on those good intentions. Even if I believe you have an open, kind and customer-oriented philosophy for doing business, if I think you're prone to mistakes and operating problems, I'm still not going to trust you to do the right thing.

So, if you want to earn customer trust then you need to focus your actions in both these areas: intent and competence. Improving your intent really boils down to upgrading your operating philosophy and trying to create a customer-centric culture or mindset at the firm.

Here are some things you can do to improve your intent:

  • Teach managers and rank-and-file employees alike that your goal as a business is not just to make a profit, but to make an honest profit, by always giving a customer the product or service that meets his interests.

  • Be willing to forego the immediate profits that might be generated by selling a customer what you can persuade him to buy in order to sell him what is genuinely in his own interest.

  • Treat the customer the way you'd like to be treated as a customer.

  • Train employees to solve problems and resolve issues by first asking: "What's in the customer's interest in this situation?"

    To improve your competence as an organization, you need to embrace the right technologies, processes, and skill sets for managing your business better.

  • Be sure your firm can remember what a customer tells you, whether they tell you on your website or on the phone or even at the point of purchase. Never make a customer tell you the same thing twice.

  • Once you've motivated your employees to want to make the right decisions (acting in the customer's interest), then be sure they have the right tools and information, give them appropriate training and get out of their way. A competent organization doesn't have to engage in as many top-down activities, but relies on individual employees who act on their own initiative.

  • "Connect the dots" in your company by dismantling product-based silos of information and authority.

  • Change the sales compensation and reward structure to ensure that the drive for product sales doesn't overshadow the drive for customer satisfaction.

    There's a whole lot more to this than I can cover here. Earning and keeping the trust of customers is a critical task on the way to long-term profitability, and figuring out how to accomplish this task is worth spending some time on.

    As a first step, you need to get conversant with the issues. You should definitely read our book, Rules to Break and Laws to Follow. We have a substantial amount of material in this book about the issue of earning customer trust, acting in the customer's interest and recovering trust if you lose it due to some problem. We tried to put the whole idea of "trust" in the right context, thinking of it as a valuable business asset. In addition to our book, I'd recommend you also read Stephen M. R. Covey's book, The Speed of Trust. This is a great primer on the subject and full of terrific examples.


    Hear more in Creating Customer Value, a SearchCRM.com monthly podcast series with Peppers and Rogers.

  • This was last published in January 2009

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