In my last blog, we explored the Customer Service Pillar of being Strategic in the context of what customers are expecting from IT Solution providers today. As a reminder, I am writing from a customer service roadmap called CustomerFIRST where the word FIRST is the following:
This week I am addressing the final Pillar of successful customer service – being Trusted.
Trust is the Holy Grail of customer service. All of the other characteristics of CustomerFIRST are typically required for trust to develop. Our clients must see us being flexible to their needs and requirements, invested and credible in the solutions we sell and implement, responsive when they need our help, and strategic in how we interact and the value we provide. Assuming we do all of these consistently well, then we have the opportunity to pursue a trust-based relationship.
Over the years, I have spoken with many senior IT executives about trust and what it takes to earn their trust. I have been surprised by the desire that clients have to be able to trust their IT Solution Providers. The reality is that CIOs, CTOs, Directors, & VPs of IT strongly desire trust-based relationship. These IT leaders have all told me that when they have total confidence in an IT Solution Provider, their lives get easier and better. When they trust, they don’t feel the need to constantly look over their shoulder or second guess every decision. When they have trust, they sleep easier at night because they believe that their IT Solutions Partner will do the right thing if something goes wrong. It is helpful to understand that trust is a desired trait on both sides of the table.
Look at any IT Solution Provider’s Vision or Mission Statement, and you will see the words “Trusted Advisor” embedded somewhere. It turns out that all IT Solution Providers say they aspire to be a trusted advisor to their clients, but how many actually achieve this distinction? I would argue that very few truly reach this goal. Assuming this is true, what it is that makes achieving trust with clients so difficult?
Trust, I believe, is an elusive objective where time, experience, and adversity are all required. As we have all heard many times, “Trust must be earned.” Therefore, if we as IT Solution Providers truly want to achieve this lofty ideal of being a Trusted Advisor, we must seriously understand what is required.
If people like you they will listen to you, but if they trust you they’ll do business with you.
First, we must recognize that trust takes time. To earn trust, we will need to demonstrate consistent behavior for an extended period of time. That behavior will also need to be demonstrated in a way that serves the best interest of the client – not our own. All individuals develop trust at different speeds and many factors play into this.
Maybe your Director of IT or CIO clients have extensive baggage from other IT Solution Providers NOT doing the right thing; and, therefore, they will require substantially more time to build a trust-based relationship. The bottom line is that time, patience, and consistent behavior are required for trust to have a chance to build. Too often, our expectations as IT Solution Providers is that a single successful project lights the torch for a lasting and permanent relationship. In most cases, a single successful project allows us a chance to take a swing at another project, but it does little more than that.
Second, we must have a variety of experiences with a client to create the opportunity to build trust. Typically, a variety of experiences can involve a variety of projects, interactions, and different individuals from the same firm working with a variety of client personnel. While trust can develop faster with a single individual, it is much more difficult to develop trust at an organizational level.
Finally, trust requires adversity. Simply stated, this means that WHEN we make a mistake – and we will all make mistakes – the client needs to see us do the right thing, even when it hurts. “So, are you suggesting, Steve, that having a perfect track record with a client is less beneficial to building trust than making mistakes and fixing them?” I guess I am.
Think about the times in life when you personally grew the most. Those times were likely difficult, challenging, and may have involved major failures that required you to take a personal inventory and change directions or make a really tough decision. The same is true with relationships. We seldom build meaningful relationships without walking through the valley with another individual or group.
The big idea here is that any of us doing IT stuff will make mistakes. Information technology is difficult, ever changing, and just hard. As a result, we must consistently choose to accept responsibility and take immediate corrective action (on our nickel) if we want to build trust with any client. If we don’t care about building trust, we will point fingers, run for the hills, or choose a liberal interpretation of the statement of work (SOW).
Over the years, I have put together a short list of characteristics to help guide our employees at Zunesis in their interaction with clients. These, I believe, are fundamental to building and earning trust:
- Always put the best interest of the customer first.
- Follow through on commitments.
- Communicate exceptionally well, and identify and communicate problems quickly.
- Accept responsibility for failure, and take swift corrective action.
- Always do the right thing, every time, even if it hurts.
Those of you reading this are probably asking yourself if earning trust is even worth it. I believe it is, but earning trust doesn’t exactly square with our immediate gratification culture. It is hard to find things like (1) time & patience, (2) variety & experiences, and (3) adversity on many business playlists today.
But these are the mandatory ingredients of building and earning trust. If you are one of the few IT Solution Providers that desires trust with your clients and are deliberate in your efforts to get there, I commend and respect you. Your business will continue to succeed and your clients will have a broader smile on their faces more of the time.
This is my final BLOG in this series on CustomerFIRST. I wish you the very best in your efforts to serve customers in the ways they wish to be served.