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Customer Relationships

3 Ways to Build More Trust With Customers

Marketing guru Seth Godin and Salesforce vice president and global innovation evangelist Brian Solis offer their take on how to build customer trust.

Woman with customers
A key to building more trust with customers? Be more human. [Morsa Images / Getty Images]

For many companies, being seen as trustworthy by customers is an ultimate goal. But what does it really mean to have trust and build trust with customers?

In a recent conversation on the Blazing Trails podcast, marketing guru Seth Godin and Salesforce vice president and global innovation evangelist Brian Solis discussed the issues around trust and how companies can get to know their customers better. 

A main theme? Just be human.

That was a finding in Salesforce’s fifth edition of the State of the Connected Customer, a global survey of nearly 17,000 consumers and business buyers across 29 countries. Solis said 71% of consumers who responded to the survey said they switched brands at least once this year.

“If you ask them what was the most important thing they wanted to see from brand engagement, it was communicating honestly and transparently,” Solis said. “Another thing that was on the list was: treat me as a person, not a number.”

If you’re thinking about how your business can do more of that, here are a few places to start.

Create experiences to build better trust

During the pandemic, people have had more time to think about what makes them happy. This created an opportunity for businesses to focus on relationships and build better experiences — not just promote a product or service.

“Experiences should have been a priority all along,” Solis said. “When we think about the word experience, what we’re really saying is people want to feel better as they engage with you. They want to leave that encounter with the sense of being valued or that their time was respected, or that their expectations were met or that businesses exceeded those expectations.”

When customers have a great experience and feel valued by the brand, they will return. But if they have a negative experience? People will walk away quickly. And if the experience is just mediocre, you may be forgotten.

“Clearly, the advantage is on building relationships with customers like you would with anybody else, making them feel better for it,” Solis said.

Make things personal, not personalized

Many companies have gotten better over the years at segmenting customers by demographics and data points. But all of that information hasn’t necessarily led to experiences in which customers feel like those companies truly know them.

“No one wants anything to be personalized,” Godin said. “They want it to be personal, and those are two totally different things.”

Companies that are more successful at getting personal not only have a 360-degree view of their customers. They also use that view with a focus on actually benefiting the customer.

“What we’re doing as marketers is spending all this time de-anonymizing people, and snooping on them and cookie-ing them, and then only using that information to help them, not to help the customer,” Godin said. “What we have to do instead is say, ‘What’s the story this person wants to tell themselves, and how do we become appropriately personal with them, with their permission?’ As opposed to saying, ‘What’s the easy, systemic, database-driven solution, so I can get this over with and go back to what I was doing yesterday?’”

State your values — and actually live by them

The State of the Connected Consumer report showed 66% of customers said they stopped doing business with the companies whose values didn’t align with theirs, up from 62% the previous year. That’s just the latest sign of the importance of not only communicating the values of your business, but also acting in a way that gives those stated values real credibility with customers.

“Some corporations have gotten good at telling stories and presenting a front to consumers that they’re living their values, but many corporations, particularly public ones, feel trapped and have no choice but to cut corners thinking that is their job,” Godin said.

If you’re not living by your values as a company, you can lose customers to competitors that do. While every employee can play a role in this, it often starts at the executive level.

“What I would say to the board, to the CEO, to the hangers-on, to anybody, is, ‘Who do we want to be like? Who is our role model here? Who came before us, or who is standing near us, that is doing it right?’” Godin said. 

Listen to the full podcast episode:


Ari Bendersky is a Chicago-based lifestyle journalist who has contributed to a number of leading publications including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal magazine, Men's Journal, RollingStone.com and many more. He has written for brands as wide-ranging as Ace Hardware to Grassroots Cannabis and is a lead contributor to the Salesforce 360 Blog. He is also the co-host of the Overserved podcast, featuring long-form conversations with food and beverage personalities.

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