Building a relationship of trust with your customers is not a cakewalk. The bestselling author, David Maister and his co-authors have beautifully elaborated on the Trust Equation in the book titled, “The Trusted Advisor“. In this article, we have unpacked the components of the Trust equation as described in the said book and also added our own opinion to each of Maister’s trust components.
We believe that the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and processes that a business invests in, contribute to the building of trust and visibility in the eyes of its customers. Similarly, marketing, while raising the visibility of a business, has the important function of giving it a head start in the Trust equation with its prospective buyers.
Read on to explore more such elements. You can also choose to watch and understand the “Trust Equation” and our inputs in the video below.
Who in your own life, do you think of as your Trusted Advisors? These could be for personal or business matters. What are the characteristics of such a Trusted individual and what are the characteristics that make the relationship a trusted one for you?
David Maister is one of the most recognized authors on the topic of Professional Services. He and his co-authors in their book ‘Trusted Advisor’ have studied what it takes to become a Trusted Advisor and have come up with an equation for Trust.
The equation goes T = (C+R+I)/S.
Trustworthiness, Maister says is a function of four components – Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and is inversely related to the Self-Orientation of the Advisor.
Professional service firms typically demonstrate their credibility to prospects and customers with their case studies or testimonials, methodologies and capabilities and by demonstrating their expertise.
While these focus on the rational aspects of credibility, there are emotional aspects that the customer is evaluating the advisor on, alongside. Is the advisor perceived as merely believable or is perceived as being honest?
And this is even more pronounced as they start working with the advisor. The question in the customer’s mind as they are working with an Advisor is not merely, ‘are you telling me the truth’ but rather ‘are you telling me the complete truth’. Are you covering all dimensions of a problem you are solving for me, that I need to hear?
Customers think of businesses as reliable, when they see them delivering on promises repeatedly. Ultimately, the trust in a brand comes from the fact that the brand has a record of keeping its promises.
Your responsiveness and transparency in interactions are all adding upto the Reliability score in the customer’s mind, about your business.
The investments in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and processes a business makes, are in service to this aspect of trust. How easy and convenient are you making it to interact with you across channels? How quickly are you responding to inquiries, complaints, and issues and addressing them?
To appreciate what Maister is saying when he calls out Intimacy, go back to the question we started this article with. When you think of your own Trusted Advisors, you will find there’s an emotional honesty in your interactions with them. You share opinions freely on difficult topics, there is a willingness to expand the conversations to what could go wrong with an initiative, and the two of you are not afraid to peel the layers to get to the root of a problem, and sometimes that means your own insecurities and fears; and all of this is done with mutual respect and boundaries in place.
On the flip side to all these factors we have covered thus far, is Self-Orientation. Self Orientation simply is everything that an Advisor says and does, that is focused on themselves and not in the client’s interests.
Every time the Advisor rushes to a solution without patiently hearing out the customer or each time you’re asking clever closed=ended questions to steer the conversation, that’s Self Orientation at play. This of course, erodes trust.
Maister’s advice – control your urge to appear bright and intelligent, and rush to solutions until you have truly defined the problem.
My own take – these lessons are as important and applicable to the client as it is to the advisor. Focus on solving problems, rather than the need to be seen as right.
An interesting question that comes up, when studying this Trust equation is Does Trust by definition take time? Of course, credibility isn’t established overnight … reliability and intimacy take time.
Having said that, are there things that can be done early on, in a client relationship to establish trust? The answer is yes, there are things you can do right from your first interaction or even before it, to start building trust.
The best advice here is to pay attention to the ‘small’ stuff.
Going alongside the topic of Trust is Visibility. Another thought leader that we follow, Phillip Morgan mentioned in his book titled, “The Positioning Manual for Indie Consultants” that buyers cannot assess your trustworthiness unless you are visible to the market you serve. Visibility is thus a precondition, if you would, for trust. Phillip goes on to describe Marketing as earning visibility and trust for your service offers, business and thinking.
To tie the two thoughts together, view Marketing as an investment that one makes, for an early start on the Trust equation with your customers.