Trust is essential to building enduring connections with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities in which we do business. And it drives the risk-taking that leads to innovation and progress.
But how do you gain it? It doesn’t hurt to be honest and ethical. What most business owners don’t get, though, is that the best way to build trust is to extend it to others. I often think of a Philadelphia cafe owner who decided, years back, to let customers make their own change from coins he left out on the counter. He was able to serve them faster, yes, but he also won loyal customers and left his competitors behind.
Netflix (NFLX) trusts its employees to take whatever vacation they feel they need. Rock band Radiohead released an album online, trusting fans to decide how
much to pay, and generated more revenue than all its previous releases. The University of
Michigan Health System encourages doctors to apologize when they make mistakes, trusting patients to forgive them—and risking legal liability. The number of malpractice suits has dwindled, and other providers are adopting this approach.
My company, FYI, has moved in this direction (and counseled our clients to do the same). One way that we’ve extended trust has to do with how we approach client engagements and the hours of contracted consulting services. We want our clients to feel that we are easily accessible to them with no “stop watch” in hand (as lawyers and many consulting firms do). We want our clients to feel that we have exceeded their expectations without “nickel and diming” them with overage costs. Instead of tightening contract oversight, we did away with it. There’s a trust payoff, of course, and we spend more time to do our jobs. As a result, we have deeper ties to our customers, a number of who have asked for help in building trust in their companies.