The Value of Trust

In personal relationships, trust is something we generally have a handle on. We know whether or not to trust a family member or friend (and how much) based on their behavior over time. In a business environment, things may not be that simple. Think about it… If you have employees, do you trust them? If you have people working under contract, do you trust them? If you work for someone else, whether you’re considered an employee, team member, associate, or staff member, do you feel as if the business owner (or your manager) trusts you? Likewise, if you’re an employee or working under contract, do you trust your manager / the business owner?

Brick by brick, we build trust over time, yet it can be lost in an instant. What creates that trust? Your pile of bricks grows as time passes based on your consistency, dependability and/or responsiveness. And what else?

What owners need to trust a team member

What do owners see in team members that provides the faith to trust them? Owners like to know you have their back. They’d like every employee to behave and think like an owner at some level. Note that I said BEHAVE and THINK like an owner.

The best employees think like an owner, even if their responsibility is limited to coffee machines, ice machines, and floors in your building. When you think like an owner, you want the machines to be cleaned and disinfected regularly so no one gets sick, even if they don’t get sick enough to take time off. Clean, puddle-free floors are safer than cluttered floors that occasionally have puddles like the one that your peer slipped and cracked their elbow on.

When you behave like an owner, you don’t walk past that puddle because you aren’t the one in charge of the floors. You mop it up before someone gets hurt.

What team members need to trust a business owner

Some owners work 80 hours a week. When owners think “behaving like an owner” means their employees should also work 80 hours a week, they aren’t really looking for people to behave like an owner.

Owners: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “I can’t trust my employees because…”

  • they don’t work as hard as I do.
  • they don’t think like an owner.
  • they don’t take ownership of their work.
  • I have to monitor everything they do.

Ask yourself if you worked as hard as the owner did in your last job. Rather than expecting them to be as vested as you (assuming you have everything on the line and everything to gain), consider your last gig as an employee. How’d you feel about it? What’d you like? What’d you dislike? Did you trust the owner? Did the owner train you to think like they did?

If your people don’t take ownership, do you encourage them to take responsibility and own their work? More importantly, do you reward them based on those actions? Do you “over-manage” them? Some might call it micro-management, but over-manage might be more descriptive.

MBWA (management by wandering around) isn’t micro-management. Training isn’t micro-management. Good hiring, middle managers, documented work processes and management systems take the place your innate need to “monitor everything they do”. It’s an adjustment as your company outgrows you – which it should do. Employees expect owners to focus on strategic work that prepares the company for its next challenge(r), not over-managing.

Employees: What trust doesn’t mean

If you are thinking “The owner doesn’t trust us because…”

  • they installed a security system, digital access keypads for some areas, etc.
  • they installed security cameras.
  • they ask us to have a peer confirm bank deposit before we head out the door with the bank bag.
  • they ask us to have a peer double check the shipping list before we close a box going out to our largest commercial customer.

… you aren’t thinking like an owner.

When you complain about these things, it sounds like you aren’t interested in protecting the company’s assets or reducing the company’s risk. The value of double checking deposits or shipments to an important customer is obvious. Mistakes happen. Security systems limit access to assets by those with no business need to access them. Increased risk increases costs. These systems impact insurance costs & provide evidence gathering capability that protects good employees from bad ones.

When a family member threatens their ex who works with you, your spouse or your kid, it’s the owner who worries about whether or not it’s safe to allow people to come to work. Before you doubt that, bear in mind that I’ve lived that situation and had those thoughts. You can’t install security cameras and harden your business overnight. You have to be “a bit more ready” when you can afford to be.

Put yourself in the other person’s place, no matter what your role.

Communicate when nature threatens

Last week I said “Allowing perceptions to percolate in our guests’ minds without updates is dangerous not only for this year’s success, but for future years as well.

Part of your job is to set guests’ minds at ease by giving them the advice they need to make considered decisions during situations they’re unaccustomed to.

They want to protect their investment, their vacation and their families. It’s safe to say that your local, regional and/or state tourism groups, media and attractions will put effort into this. What isn’t safe to assume is that your guests will see their message and understand it as you do.

You might be the only one in the area with their name and contact info. You might be the only one who develops a relationship with them. Your business is the one that will pay the price if they get off a plane in Minneapolis and see an airport gate “if it bleeds, it leads” style news video with an uninformed announcer from 2500 miles away saying “Glacier Park is on fire“.

They don’t know what you know. You’ve seen all of this before.

Make sure they understand that and that you are giving them time-tested advice based on your knowledge of their visit and their family. YOU need to contact them and make sure they have accurate information, otherwise, their next flight might be toward home.

Details protect your business

Last time, I added a lot to your plate:

Segmenting guests into groups. Collecting emails. Collecting cell numbers. Writing emails. Sending emails. Documenting the various communication processes so anyone can do it, even if you’re tending to a sick parent. Producing templates for the emails you might need to send. Producing templates for the text messages you might need to send. Producing a fill-in-the-blanks script that a staffer can read when calling guests who are in transit or in the area. Documenting the process so that anyone on site knows who is responsible for starting the process, which one to start, who to notify and what to say.

This isn’t about creating more work for the owner/manager. This is about putting a trust-building, by the numbers, automated where necessary system in place so that it can be handled by employees who never dealt with it before.

You won’t have time to do any of this when a fire blows up in the park. You won’t have time to manually send 300 emails or make 100 phone calls while deciding what to say on the fly.

This is about creating time to deal with critical high-season work when you least want to be “messing around with emails”, even if your place isn’t directly threatened. These tasks need to be organized, tested and ready to implement before the season starts.

Fine tuning the message

When you sit down to build this system, you’ll have a lot to think about. For example, the urgency and means of contacting them is as different as the message for each group and situation.

What conditions that merit separate communications and (most likely) separate messages? What groups should be split out of “the entire list of guests”?

A number of situations will expose themselves as you think it through. Go back over prior years and think about the times you handled this well and not so well. What did you learn after the fact that you didn’t consider when things were unfolding? Your own experiences count too – How was this done when you were on vacation and unexpected problems occurred?

Two examples:

  • If evacuations or cancellations are necessary, will evacuated / cancelled guests get priority booking for a substitute stay at your property?
  • As the situation unfolds, it will become more clear what to say to your guests with reservations a month or more out – but you need to communicate the plan now so they know what to expect. What will you say?

Your business may not be affected by fire season but nature threatens your business somehow and when it does, “fire season lessons” apply. Your area might be subject to drought, low (or high) water in rivers/lakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or a damaged bridge instead of a forest fire.

No matter what happens, send the right message to the right guests in a timely manner in the right way. Build trust. Practice, automate, document, delegate.

 

Producing Trust

Last time (in the context of being trusted, and what a business must do to re-establish trust), I talked briefly about vendors who announce software years before they plan to ship it, including firms that never ship what they’ve announced and taken payment for.

On occasion, early announcements are a legal requirement for some businesses. IBM and the terms of their consent decree, for example.

Delivery problems can be made worse by substantial changes in market conditions that can make the announced product irrelevant. In some cases, a failure to deliver is irrelevant because the product is so late that it no longer matters. The totally rewritten Netscape is one such example.

Sometimes the product doesn’t meet the expectations it originally set for potential customers even if market conditions havenâ??t changed. On very rare occasions, a failure to deliver is intentional/fraudulent but that’s for legal blogs to discuss.

How do delivery problems happen?

Delivery problems are frequently born months or even years before they reveal themselves. They happen because the firm involved has internal development (yes, management) problems.

While hidden, these problems can lull a business into taking advance payment for a product that they cannot dream of delivering in the short term – even though their intention is to do just that.

Symptoms of a software business with development problems can include:

  • Inability to deliver a consistently high quality product.
  • They can’t name a date and deliver on that date occasionally, much less time after time.
  • They don’t know with any confidence if they will ship on a particular date until that date is too close to do anything about their ability to reach it.
  • They fail to design to a detailed enough level of granularity and get surprised during the development process, finding that something allocated to two days or two weeks instead requires four months of work.
  • They fail to focus on the task at hand and occasionally find themselves chasing a “bright shiny object” that has at best a tangential relationship to their announced product goals.
  • They work in a vacuum (insulated from their industry and/or their client base) and because of a substantial design/strategic product miscalculation, it is months or years before they discover it.
  • If they accept customization work requests for their core products, it tends to appear “duct taped” on, rather than designed-in.

Businesses that experience one or more of these issues simply haven’t decided to do enough enough to ensure compelling levels of consistency in the product they produce. They haven’t decided (or don’t realize they need) to focus only on the things that ensure an on-time delivery of a quality product. In some cases, they may not even be sure what “on-time” will be.

These things are not “just how it is”. They are decided.

Trust that upgrade?

Think about the one software package you use more than any other. Doesnâ??t matter whether itâ??s a development tool (like XCode or Visual Studio), an accounting package (QuickBooks?) or a firmware upgrade for your CNC machine.

  • Will you install the next upgrade without first checking to see if someone else has done the bleeding for you?
  • Are you confident that you can install the next upgrade right away, or do you wait a few days or weeks to see what the fallout is?
  • Do you install new upgrades right away with strong confidence that itâ??ll be solid?
  • Do you install and then spend a pile of time testing obvious things to make sure they still work?
  • Do you routinely wait for someone else to â??do the bleedingâ? for you before you decide to install or not?
  • Is it common to have to “back off” an upgrade because it broke too many things?

Put that hat on your customers.

What do they do?

Do they install what you ship on the day you ship it? Or do they put off updates until they have no choice – such as when industry specification and/or governmental rule changes require use of the upgraded version.

That’s an indicator of their trust in your development and testing process. In YOU.

Problems like this aren’t just about software businesses and aren’t about upscale quality. It’s about management consistently doing the things that create trust. This kind of trust applies to plumbers, coffee roasters, political candidates and construction companies – and many others.

You trust that even the cheapest generic milk from the store won’t have hair or bug body parts floating in it. You trust that when you flip a wall switch, the power will come on.

To produce high levels of trust in your work requires a decision: “We will do what it takes to become (or remain) the trusted party.”

It Starts With Trust

Earning, retaining and regaining the trust of your customers has been central to this blog from the beginning.

We talk about a lot of different things that all come down to creating an atmosphere of trust with your clientele. That trust will build a relationship and that relationship, even if impersonal, is what makes business personal to your customers.

A few questions came out of recent conversations on these topics and the best ones were these:

  • How can an impersonal business relationship truly be personal?
  • How does a vendor recover from a massive loss of trust?

Come on, Steeeeve

How can an impersonal business relationship truly be personal?

Easy…it starts with trust.

For example, I have a relationship with Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Do we know each other personally, like I do some of my readers? No.

Despite that, I know enough about him from his behavior and the behavior of his company to trust him – at least enough to invest in his company’s products and recommend them to others who trust me.

His behavior and the behavior of his company over time tell me a few things:

I trust that when he walks on stage to speak about new products:

  • He is going to announce things will often seem as if they were designed specifically for my use. Not because he has me on speed dial, but because his company has habitually built products which do just that.
  • He is going to announce products that will be publicly available today or very soon.

 

How is that different from others?

Some companies build something not to fill a need their customers have expressed,  or a need that they’ve discovered through vision and research, but because (for example) they compete with Apple in some other way and perhaps feel obligated to compete there too.

Those conversations seem to start with “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “Well, if so-and-so did it, so can we…”

When you come to market with a product with that much R&D behind it and no one blinks… somewhere, somehow, your company simply isn’t listening well.

Example, HP just cancelled WebOS and their TouchPad tablet one day after Best Buy publicly complained they’d only managed to sell 25,000 of the 270,000 devices they ordered. While it seems to me that this is a strategic buying error on Best Buy’s part, it isn’t as if HP can’t be held accountable for making a product that can’t compete in the marketplace. No question that the iPad and other devices hurt them badly, but they’ve known about the iPad since at least January 2010.

Again…listen well.

Some vendors announce new products years before they plan to ship – and in some cases they never deliver them. In the most extreme cases, they pre-sell them and then fail to deliver. Some repeatedly toss out anticipated release dates and never meet any of them. Try recovering from a misstep like that, even if it wasn’t intentional.

Trust starts in the mirror

How does a vendor recover from a massive loss of trust?

At the risk of being Mr. Obvious, you start recovering by earning back the trust you lost (or earning what you never had).

Start with this: Say what you’ll do, then do what you said. If you stumble, own up to it. Seem too simple? Laugh it off if you like, but as Tom Peters says “There’s not much traffic on the extra mile.”

Some of you will point to Jerry over there and you’ll say “He’ll never come back no matter what we do.”

You might be right, but more Jerrys will leave if you keep acting the way you do now. If you don’t change, how can you expect them to? Even if you don’t get Jerry back, there are others who will recognize your efforts with each bit of trust you earn.

Each customer you lose because of something you did to lose the trust of that customer. You delivered late. You didn’t deliver at all. Your quality was poor. You treated them poorly.

These problems can be repaired. Just like trust.

 

Hi, my name is TriFold Brochure. Not.

The primary message / goal / mission of this blog is that you and your business need to create a more personal connection with your clients.

To that end, someone asked me this morning about the website work that I do. We talked briefly about the technology (because that someone was a technical person) but the really important thing to talk about is the conversation you want the site to have with the people who visit it.

To your existing clients and those who already trust you, your site can be a channel to elicit conversation, to keep folks up to date on what’s new in your business and how you can help them.

But…you have to get them from “Hi, nice to meet you” before that conversation makes sense. Otherwise, it can feel like spam or an unwanted telemarketing call.

Nice to meet you

To everyone that you’ve never met or who hasn’t yet got a reason to trust you, your website is an introduction. It’s a way to expose to them what you do, what you think, what you have in common, perhaps personally and professionally but more importantly mindset-wise.

How would you want a client, friend or partner to introduce you to a prospective new client or business partner?

How would you want to be introduced to someone who has needs that are a *perfect* fit with your best skills and deepest expertise?

How would you want to be introduced to someone who already has the trust of 614 people who would greatly benefit from what you do?

What conversation about you would motivate the perfect prospective client feel the need to contact you immediately?

Is your website doing these things?