Picture this. A frequent customer, Bob, goes into a liquor store to buy beverages for a party. He walks out without his credit card. When clerk Stephen discovers it, he runs to stop him, but Bob is already out of earshot. Frequent customer Chad, also in the store, tells clerk Stephen, “I know Bob. His house is close by. I’ll be glad to run the credit card over to him before he discovers it’s missing and begins to worry.” If you were the store owner, how would you want clerk Stephen to handle this dilemma?
Images of a lawsuit might be running through your head about now. What would Bob think if Stephen gave Chad his credit card instead of simply calling Bob to tell him he left his card? What would Chad think about the store’s security procedures if his card had been involved? What might other customers in the store think of this bold action? How would the store’s insurance company react? Should there be a limit to extreme trust, even when loyal customers are involved?
Here is what happened next. Stephen handed Bob’s credit card to Chad. As soon as the credit card was delivered, Bob’s wife, Lisa, called the liquor store to report the card had been safely delivered. She thanked Stephen for trusting Chad to deliver the credit card and said, “We’ll never go to your competitors, given your trust in your customers to do the right thing.” They all lived happily ever after. Not really!
Risk is the currency of trust. When organizations take risks on behalf of their customers, it changes the calculus of ardent allegiance. Risk-taking communicates supreme confidence in a brand as actions are taken outside the protective guardrail of policies and procedures. It is the grocery store that tells a frequent customer making a purchase without a credit card or cash, “Just pay me the next time you come in.” Or the auto dealership that lets a loyal customer drive off in a new car before the trade-in vehicle has been delivered. It is the ultimate faith in humanity to do the right thing. And it is as rare as hen’s teeth. Here are five ways to create extreme trust through risk-taking.
Start a Small Trust Pilot
Trust-centered companies start with small partnering gestures to communicate to all their associates that “trust has a pronoun in the middle of the word as well as in the center of the philosophy.” It does not have to involve betting the farm the first time out. Vincenzo’s Italian restaurant in Omaha, NE, provides “honor wine” for guests. “Pour as many glasses as you like from this pitcher of Chianti,” says the wait staff. “Tell me at the end how many glasses were consumed, and I’ll add it to your check.” Small gestures signal to staff they can stray beyond the routine if warranted.
Hardwire Risk-taking into Your Service Processes
Trust-centered companies hardwire risk-taking into the products and procedures of the organization. SHED RAIN has been the world’s leading designer, engineer, and producer of umbrellas and rainwear since 1947. Their bold guarantee reads: “If this SHED RAIN umbrella ever fails due to defects in materials or workmanship, please send it back to us and we will replace it. No receipt required, no charge for our return shipping/handling, no find print, no excuses.” Notice how “we trust you” oozes from every word. The tone matches their tagline, “No Matter the Weather”
Train Your Staff to Take Smart Risks
Trust-centered companies train their employees to make smart decisions when risks with customers are involved. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is renowned for giving all their associates the authority to spend up to $2000 to ensure every guest leaves happy. But Ritz knows that empowered ignorance is anarchy. Their “we trust you” policy and philosophy is coupled with training that helps ensure associates learn ways to creatively mollify unhappy guests rather than always reaching for the checkbook as their opening response. Policies on paper need to always be anchored to proficiency in practice.
Make Risk-taking a Customer Advocacy Action
The Tattered Cover in Denver continues to enjoy its reputation as one of the largest independent bookstores in the U.S. Founded in 1970, the bookstore came under attack when owner Joyce Meskis refused to release information about customers as a part of a criminal investigation. Losing in the lower court, Meskis funded an expensive appeal on the grounds of her customers’ right to privacy. Not only did she win the case, but she also won the admiration of customers around the globe. Even those who disagreed with her stand praised her courage to honor her convictions, even at the risk of significant financial loss.
Trust Your Employees More
Trusting customers starts with trusting employees—especially since employees are also customers. Examine your rules and procedures to isolate those with a “guilty until proven innocent” theme. Weed out policies that apply to all merely to catch a few. Look at places where the leading theme is “prove it to me first” and find ways to send a more trusting message. Encourage frontline associates to offer suggestions on where restraints seem excessive or restrictions appear unwarranted. When associates make mistakes, respond with coaching, not chastising. Assume associates are doing their best to do the right thing.
My wife has given me some fantastic birthday presents, but the most memorable was a white 1962 Mercedes-Benz 220, reasonably well restored. However, the gorgeous antique turned out to be a real dud, frequently winding up in intensive care at Brothers Auto Service near Charlotte, NC, where I lived at the time. Owners Nicky and Joe had the usual critical success factors—fair prices, excellent workmanship, convenient hours—the same as the large Mercedes dealership less than a mile from their shop. But they had a secret sauce: they practiced extreme trust with customers.
Today, most repair shops have loaners. At that time, repair shops and dealerships did not offer loaners. Yet, I often heard them say, “We’re gonna need a couple of hours, so if you need to be somewhere, just take my car.” Joe drove a brand-new BMW, Nicky a new Mercedes sedan. Their courageous trust in customers was reciprocated. Customers typically gave Brothers license to fix unexpected repairs without first calling for permission.
Every encounter a customer has with any service provider involves a trust gap. It is the emotional space between hope and evidence, and between expectation and fulfillment. Think of it as a trust walk. And that walk can begin, not by waiting for a long track record of experience, but by the leap of faith that boldly proclaims, “Just take my car.”