Rachel Botsman makes this point in her excellent book Who Can You Trust. The important principle here is that consistency, predictability and reliability are all vital elements of the trust equation.
For organizations that are in the ever-growing service sector, building trust through consistency is a function of one vital thing: A consistent customer experience. Brand strategist Kevin Keohane points to data which indicates that 80% of brand building is about the behaviour of an organization and its people - not marketing. While that number may vary from industry to industry, the bottom line is that actions speak louder than words to an infinite degree.
Being reliable and trustworthy in today’s economy is about ensuring that every interaction a customer has with your brand is one that lives up to your marketing verbiage. This is why team alignment and standardization of systems is so important – there is no point in having one interaction with a brand be fantastic, only for the next interaction to be a disappointment.
In one sense, it would be better to offer a lower but consistent level of service than a sporadic or hit-and-miss customer experience that varies depending on the day or the person you interact with. Inconsistent customer experiences erodes reliability, predictability and dependability that underpin trust.
One of the keys to constantly refining and improving the customer experience by actively seeking to detect areas of ‘friction’. Friction relates to the things that make it hard to engage with a business or brand. It adds irritation, cost, bureaucracy, confusion and inefficiency. In order to identify the points of friction that impact on a customer’s experience, the most important skill is empathy. Intentionally stepping into the shoes of your customers and experiencing things from their perspective is tremendously powerful.
Empathy has been a core element of Chinese electronic manufacturer Transsion’s strategy for winning the hearts and minds of consumers in India and Africa over recent years. Arif Chowdhury, vice-president of Transsion, has suggested that listening to the needs of local consumers has been far more than just a marketing slogan – it is an approach that has given the brand a tangible competitive edge over rivals.
“Big companies which sell smartphones in more than 100 countries are too global to care for one single market,” Chowdhury said. “The core strategy for us is to become the favourite mobile phone brand in emerging markets.”
In less than 12 months, Transsion went from being an unknown phone brand to being one of the top 3 selling vendors in India, by adjusting their smartphone features according to the specific market demands. The local custom of eating with your hands made it difficult to operate a smartphone, so Transsion developed phones that could be unlocked using an oil resistant fingerprint recognition feature.
It was a similar story when entering the African phone market. Rather than approaching this new market with the same consumer assumptions that had applied in an Asian context, Transsion set out to identify the key friction points for African smartphone users. The first discovery they made in this process was that African consumers tended to carry around multiple SIM cards in order to avoid making expensive out-of-network calls. The second insight was that existing smartphone cameras often struggled to highlight the facial features of people with dark skin tones.
Armed with these insights, Transsion released a range of dual SIM-card smartphones which featured cameras that boosted photo clarity by allowing more light exposure.
It paid off. To date, their success has been breathtaking with Transsion overtaking both Apple and Samsung to become the number one and most trusted player in Africa’s fast-growing smartphone market and the world’s 4th largest phone maker.
The key question any business must ask if they intend to earn and keep the affinity of their customers: What is frustrating our customers? Going further than this, what are our customers doing to try and solve these frustrations? How can we solve the problems before the customers have to?
One of the reasons businesses cannot ignore frustration-driven friction today is that experience is king. Read any consumer review site and you’ll see that the most common posts and ratings relate to a customer’s experience — not simply price or quality. Businesses across every industry are waking up to this fact. While price comparability certainly matters and consumers are looking for value, today it is the experience a business creates that can make or break them.
The key message is this: in an age of empowered consumers, no business can take their market for granted. After all, the empowered consumers of today will not just vote with their feet if they have a bad experience with a business or brand, they’ll use their ever-growing voice on review sites and social media to ensure others steer clear of you too.
There is nothing more powerful than genuinely empathizing with consumers in order to recognize and address the points of friction that could otherwise rob you of their trust and their business. Particularly in an age which is growing more computerised by the day, the human touch of empathy might be the very thing to make or break your business.
Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.
He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and has written 5 bestselling books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.