Make one greaseball move and your customer trust worries will be over

Trust. Now there’s a word we marketers drop like bright shiny pennies from a well-worn coin purse with a faulty closure.

We say it’s important, a vital part of our sales and marketing strategies. Builds a strong brand. Gain the customer’s trust and we’ll hold onto them with a ferocity that makes Velcro look like your weak-armed, pasty-faced cousin from Omaha.

When customer trust is violated, when it’s threatened or compromised through purposeful intent or inadvertent oversight, the damage to the brand can be significant. The cut can run deep and the sting last long after the surface has healed. You’ll pay for it (revenue loss) and you’ll hear about it (customer satisfaction, meet your new friend social media). A brand’s practical decision to change policy or the introduce a new process might provide a brand with short-term gains or even lay a foundation for future programs. But the costs for such tradeoffs might sacrifice hard-won and entrenched customer supporters.

Trust, academics, and art

Case in point:  In 1951, Peggy Guggenheim bestowed Mural, a work of abstract expressionism by Jackson Pollack, to the University of Iowa. The U of I School of Art and Art History had been recognized for its creative customer trustexperimentation and innovation. Ms. Guggenheim owned one of the most respected art galleries in the nation. With her donation (which included several other important works, including other Pollack pieces), she was demonstrating implicit trust in the University’s ability to manage and protect an irreplaceable and highly significant work of art. The piece served as a symbol of creative accomplishment and confidence in the University’s commitment to developing an exceptional art program.

As time went by, some legislators stopped seeing Mural as a work of art, selectively forgot that it was bestowed in good faith to an institute of higher education of some repute, and started seeing dollar signs. A few pork-bellied lawmen claimed sale of the painting could offset expenses from the great flood of 2008. Others claimed the painting would better serve the university’s art community if it was sold to fund grants and scholarships.

Riiiiight. That sounds like a good idea. If you lack all sense of propriety and don’t value your university’s brand image (or have no need of future gifts, in which case call me up, I’ll take a painting off your hands). Selling an expensive, irreplaceable, and esteemed gift isn’t a good way to honor the Ms. Guggenheim’s spirit of intent. And let’s face it, she didn’t give the university’s art department the canvas so that they could barter it off when somebody with a little power got itchy. Plus, selling the piece for financial gain is just something a greaseball would do, anyway. (BTW, greaseballs don’t attract rich benefactors, so don’t blow this U of I).

The connundrum of brand trust

The state was in financial need because of the 500-year flood, you might implore. Scholarships are necessary to ensure talented artists get training, others chant.  There are a million ways we might rationalize this issue, among them that the painting costs the university a sightly amount to insure.

But here’s the deal, kids. Trust? Well, the reason it’s such a big deal is because it’s complex. It can’t be easily rationalized when selective morals disease takes over. Trust is a fragile, living bond that requires care and attention. Nurture and protection.When you decide trust is part of your customer relationship equation and pursue it works to your advantage, you darn well better not abandon it when the room gets warm and the walls start crowding in.

Defense of your customer’s trust may mean your business has to make tough decisions. Ones that drive you to do the right thing even as you swallow the knot in your throat and stamp out the temptation to run for the hills.

Have you ever been part of an organization faced with a difficult decision involving customer trust? What happened? How did it work out? Please tell me the greaseballs weren’t invited to the meeting.

 






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