Brands can, and do, come up against issues and crises that unfortunately can crop up at any time. How these issues are dealt with is one thing, but equally important is how organisations listen to their customers and understand them in the period afterwards to re-build trust. Invariably, prevention is better than a cure when it comes to losing customer trust, and highly-loyal customers are far more likely to remain so should the brand concerned encounter any kind of issue.
There have been a number of high-profile brands hauled into the spotlight in recent times for all the wrong reasons, the horse meat scandal and its impact on retailers and food brands being one recent example. How best can brands recover from a fall of this magnitude and ensure their customers regain trust in them, and return to a position of loyalty and engagement? What’s more, how can any dents to brand loyalty be reversed and displeased customers become happy again?
Brands can lose their customers’ trust for many reasons, but failing to listen or respond to customer needs is arguably the hardest to recover from. In fact, listening and responding to your customers can help you quickly head off a situation where trust would otherwise be lost. Think of it this way; if you make a change to your product or offering that your customers do not perceive as a positive thing, you could easily lose their trust; but if you’re listening to them you’ll be acutely aware of their point of view and needs.
Through a swift response to customers’ valuable feedback, you will reinforce that the brand is trustworthy and reliable, taking their opinion on board. The undesirable alternative is that sales gradually decline over a period of months and you wait before trying to rectify the issue, but by that point the trust is already eroded.
Address the issue
If trust has been lost, you have to be honest and acknowledge the issue with your customers. The first step in rebuilding trust is to indicate to your customers that you understand there is a problem and that you are firmly focused on fixing it. How you do this depends on the type of relationship you have with your customers.
For any particularly high-value customers, take the time to contact them directly and discuss any issues there may be and the solution you plan to put in place. This level of customer service and reassurance will reinforce that you value your customers’ opinion and highlights you are dedicated to resolving any issues they may have. If you have too many customers to facilitate one on one conversations, an honest one-to-many communication outlining what your path forward is can work well.
It is also essential to make sure that employees have the correct tools to do their job, and that they feel equipped to execute what is being asked of them. For example, those who are expected to contact customers with negative opinions about your brand (detractors) following an unsatisfactory experience must be fully briefed on how best to conduct this kind of conversation and given guidance on appropriate talking points. Calls should also be recorded to provide real-life examples of how client follow-ups can be done effectively for use in training sessions to educate others.
If you’ve already lost trust, you must signal to your customers that you are aware this has happened, as being open and honest is the first step back towards a loyal relationship. Once you’ve acknowledged the loss of trust, you have to understand how you came to lose it in the first place. The best way to establish this, as always, is to ask your customers for honest feedback. Listen carefully to what you are told then start making the appropriate changes and communicate to your customers what you have done, and be sure to continue to listen.
Having made any necessary changes and clearly communicated you have done so, it’s imperative to ensure you are asking your customers if the changes you’ve made are rebuilding their trust with you. If your actions have not been effective, you will then have an awareness of why not and, therefore, where you need to focus your attention in order to bridge the gap from there.
Another key factor in regaining customer trust is knowing how best to glean feedback to ensure customers are receiving what they really want, rather than what a business thinks they want. Customer comments are powerful, they bring your target audience to life, and specific feedback should be shared across the business rather than contained within a limited group of people. Communicating to employees that a percentage of customers are saying something negative is not as impactful as them having the ability to read real comments from real customers.
The key to regaining trust is getting to the root of how you came to lose trust in the first place, ask your customers for honest feedback, act on it and tell them what you are doing, and ensure this process is continually happening. This way, customers will be abundantly aware of your intentions as a business and will remain loyal and engaged through turbulent times. The process should also be on-going and ensuring that the channels of communication are firmly open will enable brands to have a comprehensive understanding of their customer profile and what really matters to them.
Richard Owen is the CEO of Satmetrix, which will be hosting its annual Net Promoter Conference in London on 13-14th June.