7 ways to deliver communications that build trust

Keep your customers happy by keeping dialogue with them simple, says Liz Doig

Building relationships with clients and customers has never been more important. Consumers are spoiled for choice. But after bank bail-outs and big business failures, they’re cynical too.

Customers want to feel they matter to your business – that they know you and you know them and they can trust you.

So how does a small business build strong relationships that are built on trust? How can your communications make people more liable to trust what you say, and who you claim to be?

1. Listen to your customers

How often do you ask your customers what they want? Or if the service you’re giving them is spot on?

Give your customers opportunities to talk to you. Listening to customers will help you decide the best methods for communicating with them.

It’s no good using email as your number one form of communication, for example, if your clients would prefer you to text – or they have firewalls that block your e-newsletters. And you’re only going to know these things if you’re listening.

2. Be honest

A lot of small businesses try to fudge just how small they are. It’s pretty common for the websites of one-man-bands to say We work with… or, Our tried and tested processes. Or they say, We are located in… – and the rest of the sentence never mentions the laptop on the kitchen table.

At one level it’s understandable – micro-businesses don’t want to miss out on large customers. But keep firmly in mind that this is the age of the small business. Big corporations are keener than ever to work with small – even tiny – outfits.

So be honest and be confident about who you are and what you offer. You may not offer scale – but you offer flexibility, cost efficiency and a personal touch.

3. Be really honest

If you know it’s only once in a blue moon that a customer’s delivery will arrive next day, don’t promise that it will. You’ll just end up with annoyed and inconvenienced customers.

Instead, write from the heart: Sometimes our deliveries get there overnight, but usually they take two or three days. If you need this product urgently, we can arrange special delivery.

4. Don’t use words to cover your backside

If you’re talking about the service you give, never say you’ll “aim to” do something.

We aim to exceed your expectations! is meaningless. It conveys a lack of confidence and commitment – sometimes you will, and sometimes you won’t.

For the best Sunday lunch you’ve ever had is much better than, We aim to give you the best Sunday lunch. That’s because it’s confident, and it’s a promise the customer knows you’re going to have to live up to.

5. Don’t use “official” language when the going gets tough

Every company, however big or small, has to deal with complaints. Whatever happens, don’t go into official mode when you receive a complaint.

With regard to your above-mentioned letter… is just going to make you sound unhelpful and pompous. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your meal with us… is language that’s much more likely to resolve the issue and turn the complainer into a loyal customer.

6. Hide the wiring

So many organisations talk endlessly about their fantastic processes. Usually, the customer doesn’t care so much how a piece of software works – they just want to know how it will make their lives or businesses easier and more profitable.

It’s just like when you buy a shiny new gadget. You don’t want to see the wiring inside. You just want to see what it does. So don’t talk about the features of what you offer – talk about the benefits.

It’s the same for every business. If you run a cleaning service, the main thing your customers will want to know is that you’ll keep their home or office spic and span, with no fuss at all. The types of products you use and the methods you use to hire staff could be important to a procurement department, but they’re not your headline.

7. Read it out loud

Read your communications back out loud to yourself. Do they make you sound like someone you’d trust? Or do they make you sound pompous or evasive? If you sound trustworthy to yourself, there’s a good chance you’re well on the road to building trust with your customers.

Liz Doig is a director at Wordtree, the brand language specialists, which runs ‘tone of voice’ residential courses for SMEs. www.wordtree.com


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