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Trust is a two-way street

I met with a colleague this morning who shared a great story to underscore the importance of reinforcing trust with customers. Trust is a two-way street: customers have to trust the companies with whom they do business and companies have to trust the customers they serve.

If customers don’t trust your company for some reason, you probably won’t know it because they don’t do business with you anyway. They are a part of that elusive pool of prospective customers you may be trying to reach through advertising and marketing efforts.

But what about the customers who do trust your company? Are you reciprocating by trusting them too? The easy answer is “Yes, of course we do!” But the harsh reality is that that’s not always the case.  Consider the following true story I heard from my colleague, Brian, this morning:

There is a regional coffee chain that competes with Starbucks. Like most chains that compete with Starbucks, they have their hands full. It is in their best interest to do everything possible to differentiate themselves from the coffee giant. One way this chain had been successful doing that was through a loyalty program involving those familiar punch cards. Customers received a punch on their loyalty card for each cup of coffee purchased. When the card was filled with punches, the customer’s next cup of coffee was free.

Brian had amassed a stack of these cards over time containing a sufficient number of punches entitling him to several complimentary cups of coffee. One morning, he remembered to pull out one of the completely filled punch cards to “pay” for his coffee.

As he passed the punch card to the employee behind the counter as payment, the employee said, “Sorry, we don’t accept those anymore.”

My colleague said, “Why not?”

The employee then said, “Someone stole our punch and passed off a lot of fraudulent punch cards for free cups of coffee, so we stopped honoring them.” The implication being that perhaps his loyalty cards had been fraudulently punched.

I asked Brian what happened next and he said that he paid for the coffee but has not been back since. I asked how long ago this took place and he said it was about two and a half  years ago.

Now, think about this. Here’s a loyal customer who had been buying enough cups of coffee to completely fill several loyalty punch cards who, one day two and a half years ago, decided to stop patronizing this company (at any of its locations) because one of its employees did not trust that his punch cards were authentic.

Let’s do a little math on what this breach of trust may have cost this chain of coffee shops. We’ll be conservative and assume that he paid on average $2.00 per cup of coffee only once per week and that I’m the only person he’s shared this negative experience with—though it’s safe to assume he has told this story to many others!

  • $2.00 (per cup) x 50 cups (1 per week x 50 work weeks ) = $100 per year in lost sales
  • $100 (annual lost sales) x 2.5 years (period of customer absence) = $250 in lost sales to date!

What would it have actually cost the company if he had TEN completed punch cards? Two dollars? Three dollars? Let’s say it was ten dollars! That short-sighted decision to question the legitimacy of Brian’s punch cards—and, by doing so, his trustworthiness—has cost this coffee chain a minimum of $240 and counting

This is not an oversimplification. This is happening to some degree in every business that opened its doors to serve customers this morning! This company’s relationship with Brian, like all relationships, was based in large part on mutual trust. But this trust had been severed two and half years ago by a frontline employee who challenged the authenticity of Brian’s claim to a free cup of coffee.

Communication, like trust, is a two-way street. I’d love to receive your thoughts and opinions.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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