I often get asked by B2B service providers how they can grow their revenues and differentiate from competitors. They ask me where they should concentrate – raising their customer satisfaction ratings, innovating their products or competing on price.

The answer is that there’s one area that all B2B service providers need to improve that offers considerable scope for revenue growth. And that is to increase the trust their customers have in them. The harsh truth is that the relationship between service providers and the business customers is not always, or even often, a trusting one.

Investing in trust creates numerous benefits.

For example, The Reader’s Digest Trusted Brands Study 2018 shows that quality not cost is the top trust driver for brands, and brand trust drives spending, loyalty and attention.

  • 90% of respondents agreed that a winning brand delivers consistent high quality.
  • 71% of consumers say they are willing to pay more for products or services from brands they trust.
  • 83% say that when quality and price are similar, trust is the deciding factor of choice.
  • 60% have recommended a trusted brand to others in the past 12 months.
  • 72% say they are loyal to brands they trust.
  • 71% pay more attention to brands they trust.

Service providers often focus on products, technology and pricing as the key components of successful sales. These most definitely have a role to play. However, no-one will buy your great new products or increase their spending with you if they don’t trust you. Particularly in the digital economy where they have to trust their service provider to keep their business running.

The trust divide

The problem is, trust is not static. It’s earned every day. This means that some companies, industries and countries increase or decrease trust because of the perceptions people have about them. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer shows that while China is gaining trust (a 27 point gain), the UK is staying flat and the US is losing trust (a 37 point drop).

Trust in technology is declining according to Edelman in 16 of the 28 geographies studied. For example, it dropped 19 points in the US, 14 points in Germany and 18 points in France. In the general public, trust in established technology remained high at 75% (the most trusted business sector), but trust in new and emerging technology was far lower.

Trust is especially important in changing, risky or vulnerable situations. It tends to favour larger service providers, because businesses know that they’ll still be around to cater to their needs. This means smaller providers have to work that little bit harder to gain a competitive edge that businesses can’t get elsewhere.

How to build trust into B2B relationships

So how do you build trust into your customer relationship? Well trust occurs between people, not organisations. So the same principles apply as to any other relationship:

  • Be reliable and keep your promises.
  • Tell the truth and make your words and actions match.
  • Foster frequent, open communication and say no sometimes.
  • Be honest about your own needs – this means explaining what you need to get out of this relationship.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Value long term relationships more than short term successes.
  • Sell without selling out. Have integrity.
  • Share, coach and listen. Become more than just someone who wants something. Help your customer grow, navigate problems and bring them new ideas.
  • Admit your faults. Be transparent, authentic and show how you will remedy things that are wrong
  • Keep staffing stable.

Trust is an essential component of brand value. When customers lose faith in a brand, its value plummets even if its image is beautifully designed and its advertising is inspirational. This is because there’s a gap between what the company is saying and what the company is doing. The company is therefore no longer perceived to be authentic.

The main message is that the digital economy is a trust economy.  Unless your customers can trust you to keep them safe, perform as you’ve said you would, and deal with their problems promptly and efficiently, they won’t buy from you. And any non-trustworthy event is now going to be more visible than ever before, thanks to customer’s propensity to expose poorly performing businesses on social media. Investing in trust is not a nice-to-have – it’s essential. All B2B service providers should be asking themselves not just how they’re enhancing customer experience, but how they’re building customer trust.

 

 

Posted by Teresa Cottam

Teresa helps B2B service providers improve their commercial results and the customer experience they deliver through research, insight and analysis that builds effective strategy. She is a judge of the GSMA GloMo's for customer experience and enterprise innovation, and for the UK Cloud awards. You can follow her on Twitter @teresacottam

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