Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundational principle that holds all relationships. - Stephen Covey
One of the most important assets a person, business or organization can acquire is trust. Without trust, success is unlikely and if material success is achieved, it's rarely fulfilling. In a world of corporate skepticism and doubt, the question that has been mulling around in my mind for quite some time is, “can a business really care about its audience?” After wrestling with this thought, I have come to the conclusion that yes it can, but only if that business makes it a priority.
There is no such thing as an “accident.” Nothing happens "just because." Every action is the result of another action. (Newton’s 3rd Law). If you want to build a relationship with someone, you can't just hope it happens, you must put in the work. If you want to build trust, do things that are trustworthy. If you want to create a culture of transparency, be transparent yourself. In essence, a person, business or organization must model the image it wishes to project to the world. If you say you are one thing but you show the opposite, you will be labeled as a hypocrite and regaining trust will be extremely difficult.
A Culture of Skepticism
After the latest economic collapse, known as the great recession of 2008, many hopes and dreams were crushed. In what seemed like and instant, entire retirement accounts, business ventures and dreams fell apart. While much of the blame was pointed at Corporate America and their never-ending thirst to maximize profit. The truth is, it was more of a perfect storm of risky investments, poor regulation and taking on more than we can handle. As a result, many hardworking and trusting individuals paid the price for other people’s mistakes. When events like this happen, we tend to build up walls to the outside in order to protect what we have left and a culture of skepticism sets in.
Since the great depression in the late 1920s to the early 1930s, the United States has experienced 14 significant economic downturns. When these types of events happen, the main focus becomes self-preservation. While this is a very human thing to do, this action actually prolongs the economic turmoil and creates more instability as a whole. Instead of working together, we blame others and protect what we have left. Corporations and large businesses, as well as Government take the brunt of the blame. While their actions often are largely to blame, one thing I’ve realized is that blaming never fixed the situation. Nevertheless, skepticism sets in and fear sets in as the dominant motivator.
While we have not made a full “recovery” and many are still struggling, there are some good signs that things are starting to turn around. Unemployment is down, average household income is up and new businesses are opening. This issue we are dealing with now is who to trust? How can we be certain that “this” won’t happen again? Industries like banking and real estate have had their reputations damaged the most and earning the trust of the public is not going to be a quick and easy task. So the question now is, how can a business authentically care about its customers and build trust that withstands changing market conditions?
The Business of People
During these times of uncertainty and economic instability, there are some businesses who thrive, and not just in the area of profit. There are companies and corporations who use their resources for the betterment of their own people and customers. Many of us never hear these stories because we are so locked into the negative, but let me share one with you.
Costco is one of the largest retailers in the world. But just because they are a big corporation doesn’t mean they play by “corporate rules.” Time and time again, Costco has chosen what is right over what Wall Street would deem as smart business. Why? Because co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal never forgot that he was first in the business of people. While many of the largest employers focused on protecting shareholders and staying within margins, Costco focused on what mattered, their people. In a Q&A with the Seattle Times, Senegal was asked about how Costco was able to make it through the recessions without laying anyone off. Here’s his answer:
"We made it a point. We knew how difficult the economic times were last October and November. We knew how nervous everyone was. It’s certainly one of the first times in my life I can recall fear in people relative to economics. I mean, people were literally hiding money under mattresses and buying Treasury bonds that had a negative return.
We said … two things: No. 1, we want to drive our business to succeed, so we’re going to lower prices and try to drive more business into our buildings. And in addition, our employees … deserve our loyalty. They needed it just as much then as they ever did, or more. So we said, let’s see how we can get through this thing without having layoffs.
We thought we could conduct our business in a fashion that the attrition would handle whatever reduction in force we wanted to have, and we had some new warehouses coming up also, so it enabled us to transfer some people to some of those new facilities. It worked out for us, and we feel pretty good about that. We feel good that we were able to accomplish it, and I think our people appreciate that and understand that an effort was made to make sure everyone kept their jobs."
In this powerful interview, which you can read here, he also shared how they have the lowest attrition rate in the industry and provide the best healthcare for their employees all while still delivering low prices on food and other goods to their customers. As a result, Costco has proven to their employees and their customers that their main focus is on people. This has lead to them dominating their biggest competitor, Walmart, in customer loyalty.
Building a Business That Connects
Just paying your employees more and charging less is not necessarily a recipe for success. You have to have a purpose behind what you do in order to build trust. Remember, the public is skeptical and they get even more skeptical when you start making a lot of money. Building a business that will stand the test of time about more than increasing profit margins and acquisitions. It’s about creating a community of people, employees, and customers who believe in your company's vision and future.
None of today's most influential businesses started off that way. They had to earn it. Most of the iconic brands we see every day started off in someone's garage or basement. So how did they get to where they are? By connecting their vision to other people who then chose to engage with them. While many forget about their humble roots once they “make it,” the ones that don’t have a solid foundation most others envy.
Creating a connection with your audience takes effort. We can’t assume we know what our customers want, we need to get to know them and find out what they want. "You don't find customers for your products. You find products for your customers." (Seth Godin) Without a relationship, you can't have a connection. Today businesses have more mediums than ever to connect with the world. This is both a good and a bad thing. Many businesses and people use the internet for one purpose, self-promotion. While I am all for marketing yourself, you must have a bigger purpose than just profit. There have been a number of amazing products and solutions that never connected because they lacked purpose.
Now this isn’t to say that all who succeed have a powerful purpose behind them. There are many who seem to “make it” just because. But this post isn’t about just making a profit, but creating a business that people connect with and believe in. It's about more than creating a product, but instead about creating a community. If you want to build something that moves people, that breaks down the walls of skepticism and leaves the world better than when you found it, your focus has to be on people. Those who work with you and those who use the products and services you provide.
So, can a business really care about its customer and audience? I believe so. As an entrepreneur and business owner myself, this has been my focus. I strive each day to support and encourage those I work with and to provide personalized solutions to meet my clients' needs. My goal is to create a connection - to put people before profits. And I’m not the only business that does this. A few great examples are my friends Robin Estevez of FoodTown NY and Michael Miller of the London Meditation Centre. Both are amazing leaders who serve others first. They have a passion for what they do and love the people they have the opportunity to connect with. The world is a better place because of leaders like them. If you want your business to reach its full potential, then focus on being a business that cares about its customer. The rewards you reap will be much sweeter than just profits. You’ll be a brand that connects, grows community and is built on a solid foundation of trust.
Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.
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