thank you written on a roll up gate
We've said it once, we'll say it again: a genuine "thank you" goes a long way. PHOTO: Matt Jones

According to Edelman research on brand trust, more than half of global respondents say they are happy to pay more for a trusted brand’s products and services (59% globally, 63% US) and that they will continue to buy a product from a trusted brand even if a competitor is getting better reviews (69% globally, 75% US).

But how do you build that trust?

Laserfiche founder Nien-Ling Wacker used to say that when you make decisions with money in mind, that’s a surefire way to fail. Instead, make decisions with customers in mind — even if it will result in less money at first — because the money will surely follow. Customers know when you value them as important parts of your community, not just as additions to the bottom line.

In the end, customers want to buy from companies — and people — they like. Customers don’t fall in love with your brand by being pushed into a sales relationship; they fall in love with a consistently enjoyable experience, which is the natural byproduct of a strong relationship. Companies that deliver those experiences understand the impact they make on their customers’ lives, and they make sure their employees do, too. And, even more important, they don’t underestimate the power of give when other vendors do nothing but take.

Three ways to show how you value your customers are remaining true to your mission; valuing your employees just as much as you do your customers; and treating customers like humans. Let’s take a look at the importance of each.

Stay True to Who You Are

In the 1994 movie “The Lion King,” Rafiki entreats Simba to “remember who you are,” to remain true to his legacy. Now, you may think that a Disney cartoon has little to do with your customer engagement strategy — and you’d be wrong! It’s easy for us to get distracted by what everyone else is doing, what’s hot in the industry, and what’s winning awards, and forget why our customers chose us in the first place.

Brand authenticity is important to customers, especially millennials. That’s not to say you can’t evolve or grow, but it does mean you must do so intentionally, and without forgetting your mission — or your customers.

  • Hold true to your authentic culture. Are you staying true to your organization’s true character? Are you living your mission? If the answer is “no,” stop and think about why. Do you feel like you have to change because you’ve grown — or because your customers have? Pretending to be something you aren’t, whether it’s something you once were or something you want to be, is the fastest way to lose the respect of your customers. Think back to your mission and your values. They should give you the flexibility to grow, while still staying true to your authentic culture. If one of your core values is “innovative,” how you innovate may change, but the fact that your team is actively working toward creative solutions to solve important problems for your customers shouldn’t.
  • Live your values. Your mission and values shouldn’t be statements on a slide deck or your website that you slap up once and then forget about. Everyone in your organization — from the C-suite to the front line — should know and live your values. That means if you profess to be “customer-centric,” you had better not be enabling a culture where information is siloed and legacy technology keeps your front line from a 360-degree view of the customer, or where employees are disciplined for going outside the box to find solutions to problems impacting key customers. You can’t just say you have values — you need to live them.
  • Let your personality shine through. Consistency is king. Your brand voice and personality should be consistent through every touchpoint your customer has, even if it isn’t marketing-related. Take a look at all the interactions your customer has with your brand. From operational emails to support chat to web copy, it should all feel consistent. And don’t feel like it has to be devoid of personality and sound robotic. Remember, people are people — not robots. So treat them that way.

Related Article: Narrative Is (Customer) Experience

Remember Employee Experience Drives Customer Experience

Eighty-seven percent of customers’ affinity toward Starbucks is driven by how the company treats its employees. There’s an undeniable link between customer experience and employee experience — so if you want to improve one, you need to pay attention to the other.

Companies that do a good job engaging their workforce make every employee, regardless of their role in the company, feel valued, trusted and respected — not just for what they do, but for who they are. While we may associate this with free lunch and other perks, it’s more than that. On a corporate level, this may mean investing in management training, employee development, and diversity, equity and inclusion along with corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Engaging isn’t just about what and how much you give your employees, but how they feel. Do they feel like they have the power to make the best decisions for your customers? Your employees are the face of your brand, so you need to ensure that they understand the “why” of your organization — and that they’re empowered to live those values in interactions with customers. When you trust your team to promote your values when they’re speaking to customers or making decisions, that will create authenticity, ensure your values aren’t diluted as you grow and, as a benefit, keep employees engaged.

Related Article: Customers Are Factoring Employee Treatment Into Buying Decisions

Treat Customers Like Humans

Especially if you support enterprise customers, it can be easy to focus on “the enterprise” and forget that those customers are individuals with hobbies, families and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Whether they work for a multinational organization with 50,000 employees or a local company with 50, customers are people first — and they want to be treated like it.

But sometimes it’s easier said than done. So, how can you treat your customers like humans first and customers second?

  • Say please and thank you. Your mom’s advice still holds true — be polite. It’s easy to take customers for granted, especially if you are providing a service that’s difficult to replace. (Anyone who has flown a major US airline carrier in the last few years can attest to this.) Do you say thank you when customers refer a colleague? What about when they provide feedback, even if it’s negative? Anyone appreciates hearing thank you. Make sure you say it regularly.
  • Treat your customers like you love them. When you ask long-term couples to identify the key to a successful marriage, it usually boils down to either “humor” or “respect.” We’ll get to humor in a minute, but first let’s talk about respect. It’s impossible to have a successful long-term relationship with someone who doesn’t show that they value you. Are you making it easy for them to do business with you, or are you making it easy for you? Do they have to jump through hoops to place an order or get a contract? Are you legislating by policy, rather than dealing with exceptions as they come up? Are you recognizing important occasions in your customers’ lives, whether it’s birthdays, work anniversaries or promotions? There are many ways to show your customers that you care. Try implementing some of them.
  • Laugh a little. According to Andrew Tarvin, author of "Humor That Works; The Missing Skill for Success and Happiness at Work," leaders who use humor increase productivity, enhance group cohesiveness and generate a positive impact on larger organizational outcomes. Yet when it comes to customers — especially enterprise customers — we often feel we have to be as serious as possible. Why? Do we assume just because someone works for a Fortune 100 company they give up all personality when they sign their employment agreement? When it fits your brand and the moment, show some humor — share how your team is filling their time with at-home hobbies during the pandemic. Write emails so it sounds like a person wrote them to another person, instead of a corporate communications team. Lean into what makes you unique, whether it’s bright colors or skits during webinars, instead of extinguishing it all to be more “corporate.”

Any successful long-term relationship comes down to showing how much you value and appreciate the other person, in ways big and small. You can’t take the other person for granted. It’s like Nien-Ling used to say: customers know when you’re making decisions with them in mind. Stop thinking about what you can get from your customers, and start asking yourself what you can do to thank them for their ongoing relationship with you. That’s the key to building trust — and the key to transforming customers into advocates.