Building Trust With Your Customers

It doesn’t matter what you say, how loud, how often or even how true it is. If your audience doesn’t trust you, it’s a waste of breath. Without trust, they’re probably not listening — or even worse, they think you’re lying to them.

So how do you make them trust you? Put simply, you can’t. But you can begin the long, hard journey to building a relationship with your audience and earning their trust.

Why is trust so hard?

As a marketer, you know the landscape has changed. Audiences are more sophisticated, educated and fragmented. They can see you coming a mile away, and they’re skeptical of everything you say and do. They know you want their money, and they’re not sure what you’re offering in exchange.

What makes it worse is that it seems for every good, honest company (like yours!), there’s another one cooking the books, fibbing to their customers, making false claims and getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Traditional media — social media even more so — tends to concentrate on the negative, and scandalous, trust-destroying stories spread like wildfire. Inevitably, we all get painted — tainted — with that brush of suspicion. Where in the past we might have been lucky enough to start on neutral ground with consumer perception, we now start in the trust basement and have to earn every step up to a place where consumers believe what we have to say.

More specifically for product marketers, changes in consumer and government regulations can have a tremendous impact on the landscape and pique suspicion. If the government had to step in to regulate what you’re doing, you must have been doing it wrong, cutting corners or trying to pull a fast one.

For pet product marketers in particular, people are treating and taking care of their furry companions differently. For more and more of the 65 percent of households that own pets, that pet is a member of the family.1 When it comes to the health and happiness of our families, we won’t leave anything to chance. I might take a chance on a new running shoe, shaving cream or hot sauce, but when it comes to the well-being of my family, I remain skeptical.

How do you climb the trust ladder?

First, you have to figure out what rung you’re on now. Start with some benchmark research and online listening. See what, if anything, people are thinking and are saying about you. Understand the conversations people are having and where they’re taking place.

Are you credible? Are your current brands or products seen favorably, neutrally or negatively? Identify detractors and supporters. Trusted voices online and socially have more and more influence over their audiences. Identifying what, if anything, these key influencers are saying about you is really important to establishing your position. Once you know where you stand, what people think and who those people are, you can begin your journey up the ladder.

Trust begins with shared values. If we see eye-to-eye on the things that are important to me — and I feel like they’re important to you too — we have the foundation for trust.

That means you have to stand for something. Put a flag in the ground. Have an opinion and back it up with the things you say and do: your voice should match who you are in all advertising and communications, and your opinion and values should influence how you do business, how you treat your employees, even what charities you support. Then find the people who feel the same way. For marketers with pet products and services, the importance of pets in our lives is a good place to start. How does your product or service enhance the lives of pets or the connection between owner and pet? It’s emotionally fertile ground, and there’s enough of it to carve out a space for your brand.

Build personas for your target audience. Really dig in and get to the bottom of what they think, feel and want. Choose the people you can speak to genuinely and with authenticity. Then, speak to them.

What can you add to the conversation? Present yourself truthfully and confidently and let your audience decide if your messages and products are right for them. Be transparent about your product or service. Be proud of and open about what you do. Don’t stop now! You know who you are, you know what you stand for and you’ve put it out there honestly, and you’ve found the people who are willing to listen. Engage them in dialogue.

Millennials have shown us that making claims isn’t enough; they want to be a part of the conversation. We’ve learned that doesn’t just apply to Millennials. Treat all of your customers like friends. Listen. Share. Ask them for help. Testimonials, reviews and stories — user-generated content — are a great way to get people to connect with your brand. That connection builds loyalty and creates ambassadors.

Speaking of reviews, they’re a great way to build transparency. Be careful: too many good reviews aren’t always the best idea. They can set off red flags and seem disingenuous. Cultivate and push out balanced reviews — good and bad — from both customers and trusted experts and resources.

Be consistent. Deliver the same brand promise and the same messages, in the same voice, across all platforms. Changing voice to try and expand your reach or shift your audience is confusing. Let people get to know you.

Where do you stand on customer service? Do you provide genuine concern to help your customers along the way, to use your product to the highest benefit for them, and to create an easy, enjoyable experience with your brand?

And what about when problems arise? Resolving issues in an open and timely matter is a fantastic way to build trust. These are the people who have already tried your product. Making sure they’re satisfied builds loyalty and creates social champions. Customer service is key to supporting and balancing the conversation.

Don’t take it for granted.

Now that you have loyal customers, engaged and trusting, don’t ignore them. Be interested in them. Talk to them, lots. Find out what else is important to them and make it important to you. Take up a new cause that supports your customers and their pets. When you make mistakes — and everyone does — say you’re sorry.

In this bold new world of marketing where technology has given every customer a voice and more choice than ever before, the customer relationship has become personal, simple. Treat your customer like a person, like a friend you want to keep. Trust them and they’ll trust you.