Credibility Crisis: 4 Strategies for Cultivating Consumer Trust

Instead of churning out traditional sales lingo and telling consumers what they want, focus on listening to what they need.

Did you know 97% of online shoppers bail out without purchasing on their first visit to a site? And roughly 70% of shoppers who do add items to online shopping carts don’t complete the purchase. Despite improving consumer confidence, there’s a severe disconnect between vendors and the marketplaces they hope to serve, a situation resulting in some serious economic opportunity loss. Far too many companies are churning out traditional sales lingo, laced with vague or overinflated claims, instead of establishing credibility. And the mission critical nature of credibility can’t be overstated, as it establishes a company or brand’s integrity, reliability and validity. At the most fundamental level, credibility translates into trust, and trust translates into sales.

“Today’s consumer is quite savvy, but is often overloaded, over-committed, overdue for a vacation and, thus, easily annoyed,” says Brian Greenberg, a successful serial entrepreneur. This heightened emotional state is working against common sales tactics hyper-focused on getting to the close, rather than getting to know the consumer – and vice versa. Greenberg offers four proven tactics critical to building a loyal client base.

1. Righteous reviews: Studies show that people like to do what others are doing, especially when they feel insecure. Customers are more likely to make a purchase from an entity that has been favorably reviewed. This means you should be showcasing real reviews and testimonials that allow potential buyers to align themselves with others who have made purchase decisions. Be sure these reviews touch on more than one aspect of a previous buyer’s experience. Prospects want to know that the person who wrote the review really exists so be sure to list real names (with permission, of course). And, if you sell to other businesses, list job titles and the companies they represent. Marketers and business owners should encourage buyers to provide written reviews, whether through a dedicated web page, a follow-up email, phone call or other reminder.

2. The science of social proof: Simply put, social proof is influence created when one discovers that others are doing something. While reviews and testimonials are two of the most persuasive forms of social proof, there are other important considerations. We now know that — with the rise of internet sales and social media — potential buyers can amass a great deal of information even before visiting a store. Endorsements from organizations or celebrities with a positive public image and the “wisdom of the crowds” can provide the emotional risk relief needed to close a sale.

Social media, particularly Facebook, also presents tremendous image opportunity. Likes on Facebook are positive reviews about your products or services and show potential users your brand can be trusted. Another highly effective brand-builder is publicity. Being mentioned in the media or offering commentary as a thought leader is extraordinarily effective.

3. Transparency translates: Sales has become synonymous with hype, but modern consumerism is based on transparency. This asks that we operate with openness and accountability. Ensure marketing-speak has no hidden agendas or false promises, and that all who come in contact with your business gain a sense of the company’s mission and culture. Potential customers consistently rank customer service as the number one factor affecting brand trust. People admire companies more when they readily admit to a mistake and address the issue directly.

4. Take direction from your customers: No matter what business you’re in, your most precious asset is your existing customer base. Why not intensely focus on their behavior and commentary (whether solicited or not), as you do business? Ask them for honest feedback. Motivate and compel them to provide it. It’s the only way to gain a deeper insight into how they feel about your business and what you can do to make their experience better. This can be informal discussions or interviews, or anonymous surveys that make subjects more comfortable.

What does your desire to listen to your customers say about you? It tells them you care, that you’re serious about satisfying them, that you want to succeed and that you’re open to change. Listening to your employees can provide great value as well. They’re on the front line. Ask them what they’re hearing, what they feel is going well and what’s not working at all.

Being a credibility-conscious operation doesn’t take a large budget. It involves not telling people what they want, but rather listening to what they need. Over time, your reputation alone may be enough to spur coveted sales growth.

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Business and branding expert Merilee Kern is an influential media voice who serves as chief public relations and communications strategist for multiple agencies. She also is the executive editor of “The Luxe List.” Kern may be reached online: www.TheLuxeList.com.