Communicating Trust
How to Develop and Build Trusting Relationships with your Customers...

All business relationships will share an element of risk during a transaction. The level of risk a business is prepared to take will depend on the perceived trust between the provider of services and the requester of services.

This is particularly critical in situations where the provider cannot be forced to co-operate in assisting or delivering services to the requester. It is in these situations where trust is a valuable quality and will greatly influence the likelyhood of a satisfactory transaction.

What is Trust?

Two quotes that I believe best describes trust in a business relationship are:

  • "Trust is a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another."
    Rousseau [1]
  • "An individual's belief in, and willingness to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another."
    Lewicki [2]

In order to measure the level of trust in a relationship, the attributes or qualities of trust in both provider and requester must be determined. The overall weight of these trust attributes can then be balanced, provider attributes against requester attributes, to determine whether the resulting trust has a positive or negative influence on the relationship.

Important provider attributes that will influence trust are:

  1. the level of reputation or integrity of the provider
  2. the level of benevolence of the provider
  3. the level of ability (knowledge, skill, competency) of the provider

Important requester attributes that will influence trust are:

  1. the level of reliance on the provider
  2. the level of confidence in the provider
  3. the level of immediacy or desperation of the requester

It is therefore these measurable attributes of the provider and the requester that must be developed in order to build trust.

Identifying Discrete Levels of Trust

When analysing trust between businesses, initially it will appear to be identifiable by a simple linear scale. This scale could indicate a value from no trust increasing to implicit trust.

However, when reviewing trust between long term business partners, it becomes apparent that relationships are complex. In these cases the relationship has matured to a state where the provider and requester have shared, adopted and combined their reputation, intentions, beliefs and culture.

With long term relationships, repeated tests of trust will establish a deeper understanding of shared values. Trust will change and mature to higher levels when emotional connections between provider and requester become stronger. Common goals will establish themselves resulting in an awareness and concern for mutual needs to keep the trusted relationship strong.

Developing and Building Trust

Trust will only evolve between provider and requester if the trust attributes are nurtured and developed:

  • Reputation and Integrity
    • Be consistent

      Behave in a consistent and predictable way. Develop communication processes to ensure that any correspondence is followed by action. Honour your commitments to reinforce your integrity of 'We do what we say we will do'.

    • Open dialogue

      Communicate openly. Give accurate and impartial information to the best of your abilities. Your motives should be clear. As you are willing to act transparently, you can be measured for compliance with any agreements.

  • Benevolence
    • Show concern

      Demonstrate sensitivity to the requesters needs, desires and interests. If the requester can see any self-interest in the transaction that puts them at a disadvantage, the trust will appear to be lost.

    • Be sincere

      Demonstrate your willingness to earn their trust. Disclose your motives and intentions fully and openly. Take actions that promote your values that you desire their trust.

  • Ability
    • Perform competently

      Perform to published guidelines and operating procedures. Demonstrate proficiency in carrying out your obligations. Keep your skills and abilities up to date and promote your qualifications.

    • Share control

      By giving trust, trust will be returned. Avoid hoarding control by inviting others to share decision making.

  • Reliance
    • Create collaboration agreements

      Establish environments where both parties gain, both short term and long term. Build collaborative networks where trusted partners are encouraged to create joint ventures. Ensure that these collaboration agreeements make positive results easier and more likely.

    • Become partners

      Act as an agent and promote each partners products and services. Consider creating joint products. This will result in a shared identity that defines their commonality. This can be strengthened with unified services and activities.

  • Confidence
    • Create a common identity

      Share marketing strategies and build unity and coherence in a group message. Promote shared values. Focus on their interests and and show concern by listening and learning about their needs. Demonstrate your confidence in them by recognising the contributions of others.

References:

[1] Rousseau, D. M., Sitkin, S. B., Burt, R. S., and Camerer, C. (1998). "Not so Different After All: A Cross-Discipline View of Trust," in Academy of Management Review, 23, 393-404.

[2] Lewicki, R. J., McAllister, D. J., & Bies, R. J. (1998). Trust and distrust: New relationships and realities. Academy of Management Review, 23, 438-458.

With long term relationships, repeated tests of trust will establish a deeper understanding of shared values. Trust will change and mature to higher levels when emotional connections between provider and requester become stronger. Common goals will establish themselves resulting in an awareness and concern for mutual needs to keep the trusted relationship strong.

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