What a week. Rhetoric stoked leaps of faith and angry protests, ugly actions and heartfelt campaigning. Whatever you hoped for, it feels like we’re in free fall now. Promises made to win votes were dumped immediately the EU Referendum battle was won. However you voted, trust has been shattered, and we’re all feeling vulnerable.
And for those of us running small businesses? We’ve spoken to many clients and friends around the UK this week – from Cliftonwood to Crewe – and we all share a feeling of insecurity. But alongside the vulnerability is a determination to push forwards. When you’re running a small business your business is your life. We’re deeply shaken but life goes on.
Now more than ever, our friends and clients are resolving to stick together, think positive, and keep on keeping on. We will get through this. But how to do it?
The power of words to drive action
One thing we were all reminded of in the last week was the power of words to move people to action. Boris Johnson is a canny orator. He knew how to craft a message that tapped into not just logical argument but deep felt emotion, and it narrowly won the battle for hearts and minds.
He won the battle, but whether he’s won the war or not remains to be seen. With promises discarded as casually as takeaway wrappers, there’s little trust in anything he says now. The message you share and how you share it matters hugely.
So a short term win, but at what cost? How can you win hearts and minds for the long term?
There are no easy answers, but here’s our approach.
What does it take to be trusted?
First, let’s take a look at trustworthiness. Can it be quantified?
Charles H. Green (author of the Trusted Advisor) thinks so. He identifies four fundamental principles that govern all trustworthy behaviour.
The 4 Trust Principles:
- A focus on the other – for their sake, not just as a means to your own ends.
- A collaborative approach to relationships – based on a belief that working together will result in a better outcome all round.
- A medium to long term relationship perspective – not a short term transactional focus – the goal is building long term success for everyone involved.
- A habit of being transparent in all your dealings – no secrets.
If you want to be trusted – in your professional and personal lives – then act consistently from these key principles, says Charlie.
“Being or becoming trustworthy can’t be reduced to behaviors alone. Our actions are manifestations of our principles — the beliefs and values we carry inside ourselves and live by. If your values don’t drive you to behave in a trustworthy manner all the time, you’ll be found out quickly.” Charles H. Green
How to build long-term trust in your business
How can we apply this thinking to build trust in our businesses? Here are some ideas.
1. Share heart-felt beliefs not spin
Trustworthy behaviour is grounded in strong values and shared beliefs. If you want your business to be trusted then look again at the core message you communicate. Why do you do what you do? This is your jump off point – uncover your mission, beliefs and shared values and communicate these loud and clear.
It’s not an easy task, but is well worth the time spent if you want to build trust from the core. This isn’t a job for your marketing department, at least not in the first instance or by themselves. Marketing can help you shape the message, but the values and beliefs need to come from you.
2. Live your values
Walk the talk. To lead people you must connect in a deep emotional way but you also have to LIVE your story. You’re judged by what you do, not just what you say. How you act and behave towards customers in the real world obviously matters, but so too does online behaviour.
It’s not enough to say you put your customers first if you’re not there when they need you. Prove it. The actions you choose every day are really just outcomes of the attitudes or beliefs you hold.
How you market your business – the content you share and how you share it – all have an impact on the customer experience.
Trust is built in a thousand tiny actions, not grandiose sweeping statements.
3. Give more
Be like Fiona, the bighearted landlady in our local pub, the Lion. Fiona’s nice to everyone and she trusts it’ll pay back in some way, some time. And it does – in custom, in word of mouth, in joy.
And although it feels a bit pie in the sky to build it into a business strategy, the time certainly feels right for more random acts of kindness.
Give exceptional value and you’ll build trust for sure. The world definitely needs more feel good, so be the one spreading the love.
“Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.” Bob Burg – the Go Giver
4. Shine your light on those people you’re in business to serve
“Start with the interests of the other party and maintain diligent focus on what is best for your customer—even when that may not appear to be what is best for you and your organization. Bona fide other-focus requires mindfulness, compassion, patience, and generosity.” Andrea P. Howe, The Get Real Project
You can put customer-focus into practice if you approach your communications from your customers’ perspective.
Ask, listen and design your communications and digital interactions with their perspective in mind. We’re talking user experience (UX) – and empathy (as our friend Richard says) is the key here:
“Empathy… I describe it as being able to emotionally connect with another person and have the practical desire to do something about it.” Richard Caddick, owner, CX Partners
Bring this customer focus and empathy to how you communicate, sell, service and design your business if you want to build value and trust for the long term.
“Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.” ~ Roman Krznaric
5. Respect your audience
Respect that people are busy, that their time matters. Yes, you want to sell to them (maybe more so now that times feel so uncertain) but what would THEY appreciate?
It’s possible to GRAB their attention, but what does it do for your relationship long term? It might take more time and more effort to win attention in a respectful way, over quick ‘wins’ like remarketing, for example, but it’s more effective in the long run.
There’s a fine line between ‘awareness’ and ‘that’s bloody annoying.’ How do you want to be seen?
6. Show up in person, and lead in troubled times
Trust is personal. People trust people, not corporate spin. Don’t hide behind the corporate façade.
Have the confidence to show the people behind the company. (Never mind that showcasing them might mean recruiters/competitors try and steal them away from you!) Trust them to communicate directly with your customers and step out of the way.
Trusted leaders don’t hide when times get tough. It’s tempting to brush it all under the carpet (and try and hide there yourself) but now’s the time to take charge. We’ve seen a couple of admirable leaders do this really well in the wake of the Brexit fallout:
- Like Toby Sawday at Sawday’s – Dear team – the unthinkable has happened
- And Fiona Campbell-Hayes of Falmouth-based Radix Communications – Email to the Radix team about the referendum result
We trust people who lead and communicate thoughtfully. Face into the difficult stuff.
7. Keep it positive
Sure, negative can make an impact short term – look at Project Fear – that’s the easy path, but long term? Support ebbs away when there’s nothing good to work towards. Give people hope – a positive vision that pulls them together, and they’re more likely to stick with you long term.
Now more than ever we want reasons to smile, so accentuate the bright side.
8. Hold your nerve
And keep on keeping on. Remember the bigger picture. Hold firm to the reason you do what you do and why it matters.
Hold that thought and keep moving forwards. Keep the faith!
Big lessons for us all
The big lessons are coming so thick and fast it’s hard to keep up with them. The landscape is shifting by the hour. Whatever happens next though, we think this stands true:
“The broader lesson of the Brexit vote for all business and political leaders is to never underestimate the power of words, narrative and communication to convince people of the strength of your ideas.” Carmine Gallo
But however powerful they are, we believe that to rebuild trust we need more than words. Reliable, truthful ACTIONS, sustained over time, pave the way for for long term success, and joy.
Where to start? Who do you trust? We’re doing a lot of reading and thinking, and spending as much time as we can with friends and family. Reminding ourselves of what we love about people and the world.
Find your tribe, reconnect with friends, and if it helps, reflect on the ideas above and work out how to apply them to your business
- 3 communications fails that triggered the Brexit vote – fascinating Forbes article by Carmine Gallo (author of Talk Like TED)
- How trustworthy are you? Take Charles Green’s Trust Quotient quiz
- Trust-based marketing. 4 ways to up the ante – by Andrea P Howe
- Content marketing and the forgotten principles of trust