In today’s hyperconnected, increasingly personalized marketplace, customers expect more than ever. Their expectations of excellence haven’t waned in the face of ongoing challenges like COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, and understaffed businesses; it’s quite the opposite. Customers are getting less willing to forgive and forget when their experience with a brand falls short.
The shift in expectations has been significant:
- A 2018 report by PWC found that nearly one-third (32%) of global customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after just one bad experience, and 59% would walk away after “several” negative experiences.
- Coveo conducted a similar survey in 2021, and the number of consumers who would walk away after a few bad experiences has skyrocketed since 2018. In Coveo’s survey of nearly 2,000 consumers, 73% said they’d walk away after three bad experiences.
The numbers speak for themselves. Customers have gotten used to tailored, convenient, right-to-their-door service, and they expect it everywhere and through an ever-expanding suite of channels.
Contact centers, in-person help, live online chat, artificial intelligence (AI) features, email, and more are all available so customers can access help the way they want to. But it makes the already-difficult task of delivering perfection every time that much more complicated.
Customers are getting less willing to forgive and forget when their experience with a brand falls short.
The problem is that mistakes happen. They always will; no matter how good a company is at what it does.
So, brands need a contingency plan for those times when things don’t go right.
Building customer trust in the brand is that contingency plan.
The Trouble with Trust
One of the driving forces behind the trend described above is a lack of trust between consumers and brands in the current market.
Havas Group’s 2021 Meaningful Brands Report found that cynicism about brands’ intentions is at an all-time high, with only 47% of brands being viewed as trustworthy. The same survey found that 71% of respondents said they have little faith that any brands will deliver on their promises, and only 34% think companies are transparent.
With this context, it’s not hard to see why customers are so quick to abandon brands that miss the mark. Without trust, customers can’t give brands the benefit of the doubt. When trust between parties breaks down, one late delivery, a failed service call, or a single faulty product holds weight because the customer doesn’t believe the brand’s intentions were to deliver in the first place.
Business leaders must understand that perfecting the customer experience (CX) isn’t just about being perfect. It’s about cultivating enough trust in your process that customers are willing to stick around even when you fall short—and it can start with your customer service representatives.
Here are four ways customer service representatives can turn trouble into trust, so one hiccup doesn’t lead to permanently alienated consumers.
1. Communicating clearly and openly.
Failing to communicate clearly is one of the fastest and easiest ways to erode trust. When devising CX plans, clarity and transparency should be priority Number One for representatives talking to dissatisfied customers. People are very good at noticing when a representative is being evasive, and feeling they’re being told half-truths doesn’t inspire confidence.
Customer service teams shouldn’t be afraid to give customers a clear picture of what’s happening behind the scenes. Doing so should be policy. If staffing or supply chain issues are affecting wait times, be upfront about it—especially if they are leading to less-than-ideal service.
Make it standard practice to let customers know how long they can expect their order to take to arrive or their problem to be resolved—and why. Then, ensure representatives can provide clear and precise next steps.
Will the customer get a confirmation email? Will the representative be calling them back? Over-communicating will ensure they don’t leave the interaction with lingering questions.
Making open and honest communication the norm helps customers feel that the company is keeping its promises. It also mitigates the chance that the customer gets an outcome they didn’t expect. That can go a long way toward building trust.
2. Streamlining decisions and processes.
It’s frustrating enough when an order doesn’t arrive, or a service isn’t working correctly. Customers do not want to wait around while representatives check in with managers about how to help or what to offer. Instead, CX plans should empower representatives to make decisions without permission.
When representatives are putting customers on hold to check in on one thing or another, it sends the message that the company itself doesn’t trust the representative’s judgment. If that’s the case, why should the customer?
But by giving representatives the ability to make decisions and offer solutions quickly, customers will learn to trust that customer service teams can address their needs in a timely manner and without a complex chain of approvals.
3. Treating the customer as an individual.
Familiarity breeds trust. To provide good service, representatives must have a 360-degree view of each customer’s history with the company.
Of course, customers understand they may speak to hundreds of people over the course of their relationships with a company. However, having to explain their histories or issues repeatedly to get the help they need can be frustrating and tedious.
Customers are more likely to trust companies that remember their needs and preferences, treating them as unique individuals. Speaking with a representative who seems to know about past interactions helps customers feel like they have ongoing relationships with the brand and that the company has an interest in their satisfaction.
Empowering customer service representatives with tools that can track customers’ past interactions and potential needs can go a long way toward building trust. Plus, it helps customer service representatives quickly grasp the issues at hand and tailor their interactions to best suit the situation.
4. Taking care with data.
Of course, collecting personal data is tricky. Using it wisely can help create trust and familiarity between customers and companies—but misusing or mishandling it can alienate users quickly. Doing so may also violate data privacy laws.
CX teams must think carefully about the data they’re collecting, how they’re using it, and how they’re protecting it. High data privacy standards are critical in building trust.
It can make a big difference. Cheetah Digital’s 2022 Digital Consumer Trends Index found that the importance of knowing data is being treated with respect is rising among consumers. In fact, the number of people noting data handling is of concern has grown by 71% since last year.
When collecting and using data, CX teams should have clear plans for its use, and those plans should correlate to the services the business provides. Companies should stick to the data that matters to their business and interactions.
It’s crucial that companies and their representatives take care to communicate their data collection, use, and protection policies clearly to their customers.
Loyalty and Trust
Some companies use these two terms—trust and loyalty—interchangeably. But they aren’t the same thing. You cannot ask customers to be loyal to something they do not trust. Rather than lamenting the loss of loyalty among consumers, brands must turn inward and reflect on whether they’re giving customers something worth being loyal to.
Building trust and loyalty starts with a deep, honest look at how you’re doing business and a willingness to address any areas of opportunity that arise from the process. The steps outlined above can be a great place to start, but they are only that: a starting point. This specific approach won’t be a magic fix for every company.
Each will need to think long and hard about the services and products they offer, how they interact with their customers, and how those things intersect.
Because that’s the thing about trust. There is no secret formula. It is earned by doing—by working hard, communicating clearly, creating transparent policies, and listening to customers when they give feedback.
Building trust and loyalty starts with a deep, honest look at how you’re doing business and a willingness to address any areas of opportunity…
Put simply, the way to earn customers’ trust—so they are willing to forgive, forget, and keep doing business with you—is to show your commitment to earning it.