Sunday, 30 April 2006 17:00

Trust - key to long lasting biz relations

Written by Tom Franklin

Many times over the years, I've written about the power of trust. Most shop owners already know that customer trust is a major key to continuing business from that customer. 

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But I was inspired to take a deeper look at this subject when I noticed that Stephen M. R. Covey, the author of the best-selling "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," has now focused on a new book and seminar entitled, "The Power of Trust in Business." He tells us that "Trust is the root of all leadership influence," and "there is nothing as profitable as the economics of trust." It seems he is suggesting we put trust as the very first quality to strive for in our business. 

The elements of trust

A while back, I wrote about an unpleasant experience with a service provider. It wasn't that his work was bad. He was a good craftsman with state-of-the-art tools and equipment. The quality of his work was good, but he lacked the most important quality we all look for when we choose someone to serve us: trust.

When most of us look for a doctor, a dentist, a mechanic, or even a hair stylist, we want to be able to trust them

*to do the best job possible;

*not to overcharge or cheat us; and

*to keep all agreements and commitments or to notify us immediately of any unavoidable changes.

This individual was able to provide good work. As far as we could tell, he wasn't overcharging or cheating us. But he completely destroyed our trust on number three. He estimated a week to do the job, and three weeks later it was still not completed. Worse than that, he allowed us to make plans based on his commitment and didn't notify us so we could adjust our schedule. And after that, he agreed to a new completion date which he didn't keep, and promised to notify us if there was a change, and he didn't do that either.

This one quality that was lacking completely nullified all of his other good qualities. When trust is gone, there can be no possibility of continuing a business relationship.

One shop I deal with has made the three elements of trust their top priority. Their motto is "Quality, Honesty, and Express Service." By quality, they say they mean they will do the best job possible and they constantly upgrade their equipment and the skills of all technicians to be certain they can do that. By honesty, they say they mean that they will never overcharge or cheat a customer. And by express service, they say they mean they will do whatever it takes to meet or beat their promised time commitments. They say they consider the trust of their customers to be their most important asset and they are willing to invest every resource they have to keep that trust.

Trust is a rare commodity

Trust seems to have become more and more rare these days. It's hard to find employees we can trust to show up on time, to not steal from us, and to not cut corners that reduce the quality of their work. It's little wonder that we so highly value a trustworthy person when we find one. One of the few reliable ways to find a trustworthy service provider is to call a friend for a referral. That's why building referral business is so vital for every body shop.

It's likely that your shop turns out quality work. Your customers are happy with the appearance of their cars when they pick them up. Judy picks up her red mustang and she's pleased as punch with the way it looks. You feel confident if a friend of hers asks for a referral to a shop, she will recommend your shop without a moment's hesitation. But you could be wrong.

It may be a couple of years before one of her friends or family members has a collision. Time marches on. She may have changed cars. When asked for a referral, perhaps she can't remember the name of your shop or exactly where it was located. Your great opportunity for a referral just got away.

Is there something you could have done about it? Absolutely yes!


Longevity builds trust

The people we trust most are, by and large, the people we have dealt with the longest. We trust the same doctor, dentist, mechanic, and hair stylist that we've gone to for years. They've stood the test of time. I'm sure many of your customers have been coming back to you for years. But what about the ones that haven't been back? How can you build longevity if they haven't had an accident or reason to come back?

With interest rates the lowest in years, I, like many others, have refinanced my house. My mail box has been clogged with refinance offers from dozens of banks and lenders, but when the time came to refinance, I called the broker that I used several years ago. Why? He always kept in touch. He sent a monthly newsletter with suggestions on pest control, heating and air conditioning, dry rot and other issues of interest to a home owner. He sent greeting cards every holiday and also on my birthday and my wife's birthday. He got an exceptional rate for me last time, and I expected the same from him again. He lived up to my expectations and once again earned my trust.

Would it be too expensive or time-consuming to do this for your prior customers? Would the time and money be better spent pursuing another DRP or dealership? There may have been a time when you could afford to choose, but those days are gone. Today you have to do it all if you hope to compete.

Consistency builds trust

So what about getting the big sources of referrals? The insurance companies? Fleet companies? Dealerships? Local commercial accounts? How can you build trust with someone you've never done business with before?

The law of consistency applies. If you establish a pattern of behavior and are consistent in your actions for a very long time, people will come to expect you to behave that way every time. If you always tip a waitress 20%, she will give you the extra service, confident that you will be generous once again. If your stock broker sends you tickets to the ball game every year, you come to expect that appreciation for giving him your business.

Can you create an expectation of trustworthy behavior by consistently soliciting business in the same way, month after month, year after year? I have watched it work many times. Many agents send a free monthly information letter along with a solicitation for business. They know that eventually a certain percentage of the recipients of those letters will come to see them. If the information is valuable, or at least useful, people have a natural tendency to want to reciprocate. It's a numbers game. Some will come in and some will buy.

If you begin a regular pattern of communication with DRP coordinators, dealership principals, and fleet managers, and you consistently communicate every month or two, your consistency will communicate. By extension, they will come to believe yours is a trustworthy, consistent business to deal with.

Size inspires trust

There's a reason more people bank with big banks, shop at big stores and choose to deal with large, established companies. They believe the sheer size of the company will guarantee a degree of trustworthiness. But they are often wrong. Enron, Worldcom and other companies that were found guilty of defrauding investors violated their trust and proved that big is not necessarily better.

Nevertheless there is a way for you to use size to build trust and more business as well. Over the years you have probably accumulated several thousand satisfied customers, but who knows it? If someone comes into your shop, can they see a list of satisfied customer statements? Do you have a series of CSI graphs to show how satisfied a large percentage of your customers have been over the past few years? Do you have written endorsements by local influential people you've done work for?

This evidence of your trustworthy work will impress not only new prospective customers, but also the insurance and commercial executives you are soliciting for ongoing referral business.

Trust is a fragile thing, easily lost and nearly impossible to regain. But once established, it can make your business a thriving enterprise far into the future.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.


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