Trust and Customer Retention

August 6, 2015

It takes only a few seconds for customers to assess the level of trust between people in any business. If your business has low trust, you are probably losing valuable customers every day.

Since trust is something you cannot fake, it does little good to tell the service people to “just smile and act nicely.” Customers see through a phony show of esprit de corps and put-on friendliness.

Instead of teaching employees to be fawning and sweet with customers, focus on creating a culture of high trust throughout your organization.

Customers notice and appreciate a real culture where people are not playing games with each other. Here are a couple examples you will recognize because you have undoubtedly experienced them in some form.

There is a McDonalds Restaurant on the Thruway that I avoid, if at all possible. The reason is that every time I go in there, I am semi ignored as the employees bicker between themselves or with their managers.

I find myself waiting for service and listening as the employees have their backs to me and focus their attention on their own petty problems. There is no trust in that group, and I certainly do not appreciate the aggravation.

On the other extreme, there is a Greek Restaurant that I often patronize because I get a warm feeling of friendly service based on how the employees treat me and each other. The interpersonal trust is evident within a few seconds of walking in the door.

Customers are very sensitive to the environment of an establishment, and if the culture is one of low trust, the customers will learn to avoid that business, just as I avoid that McDonalds.

Sometimes people in organizations forget that they are also customers of other businesses. It is like they do not see the difference between serving others at one point and being served an hour later.

It is helpful to picture yourself on both sides of the counter.

You can gain significant insights by paying attention to how you react when you are the customer. If change is needed in your area, why not start making change today?

Exercise for you: Take notice today of the groups you see at work. Do they display a culture of high trust, or are they just trying to act nice? Perhaps they are being hostile to each other in front of valuable customers.

If there is a deficit of trust in your environment, chances are it is impacting revenue. Work to change the culture with urgency.

Going back to the McDonalds example, the cure is to get the leaders to understand the value of real trust between people.

Perhaps some leaders need to be replaced or retrained about how customers expect to be treated: not just with a phony smile and “Welcome to McDonalds” but with a culture that truly values the employees and puts customer service ahead of slogans.


The preceding was derived from an episode in “Building Trust,” a 30 part video series by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.” To view three short (3 minutes each) examples at no cost go to

Response When People Thank You

November 16, 2013

Food and BeverageMy wife and I were out to dinner a while ago and ran into a very personable young waiter named Kyle.

This young man was still in college, and he was working to earn money and looking for his future.

I really liked this waiter because he made great eye contact, and he was polite but not intrusive. He had one annoying habit that was a distraction from an otherwise stellar impression that he created.

Every time he would do something, like refresh my water, I would say “Thank you,” and he would reply “No problem.” For a while I just let it pass and did not think about it, but eventually I recognized that his response habit was hurting the impression he was making of himself.

The statement “No problem” is really not a bad thing to say, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build trust with the other person. Reason: the statement does not represent a proactive positive response to gratitude.

Instead, it reflects a kind of throw-away line that I, the customer, really did not matter much to him. The effect is very subtle, so the negative impression is not severe, but a more upbeat response or at least some variety of response would work much better.

A simple “You’re welcome” would be better than “No problem,” but there could be hundreds of more creative and memorable statements the young man could have used that would further entrench the good impression we had of him. Remember, he has plenty of time to prepare creative comebacks because he pours water for people every day.

For example, in response to “Thank you” after he poured the water, he might have said, “We double-filter all of our water before we serve it to our guests.” He could have blown me away with a statement like, “We never serve water that is warmer than 47 degrees.”

Another response might be “I view your glass as bottomless.” How about, “I’ll be watching to be sure you never run out.” Another tack might be to demonstrate respect by responding, “I am honored,” or “It is my pleasure.”

The young waiter, had to realize that he was serving expensive food to people who could afford it, so every night he was making impressions on people who could potentially influence his life. I took the time to compliment Kyle on his demeanor and also give him some coaching on his habitual response to gratitude. He got the message and was truly thankful for it because he had never given the matter any thought. It was just something he was used to saying.

The response to a “Thank you” should be thought of as a great way to differentiate yourself from the pack if you are in a customer service occupation. Don’t waste the opportunity with a throw-away line like, “No problem.”

The Hidden Cost of Outsourcing

August 7, 2011

In the new global economy, one of the more tempting techniques for gaining competitive advantage is to outsource non-strategic functions to lower-cost labor areas. The practice has become ubiquitous for most US-based organizations.

Unfortunately, there is a kind of false economy in outsourcing, because the dollar savings are easy to calculate and the eventual hidden costs are not evident until the damage has been done. Several organizations have elected to tuck their tail between their legs and “insource” the jobs back to the home base because the damage being done is far greater than the savings enjoyed by paying for lower cost labor. For brevity, this article will deal with only one classic example.

I had a graduate-level class that was studying the impact of outsourcing, and I gave them a discussion question to recall an incident with outsourcing that caused problems for them. Amazingly, more than 25% of the class came up with examples from a single company with remarkably similar stories. The company is Dell.

Each person recalled having some piece of Dell equipment that needed customer service. The frustrations described were so similar it was astounding. The students described having a hard time getting through to customer support in a timely manner because the function had been outsourced to India. Once the wait was over (sometimes after more than one hour), and they had a human being on the phone, the frustrations only grew. The students all complained of the inability to understand the customer service person due to a heavy accent.

They described having to ask the service person to repeat a sentence multiple times, then still needing to guess at some of the words. These customer service reps were speaking English, but the students could not understand them. In some cases, the students escalated the call to a supervisor but had the same problem with the replacement. Those students who fought through the heavy accent to get the needed support found that the reps were not very helpful technically. It became obvious that the service person was reading from a decision tree or script and did not have the in-depth knowledge of the equipment and software to resolve the problem. If the students were talking to a hardware guy, the problem was eventually blamed on the software and vice versa.

In each case, the students expressed that they were totally disgusted with the service and had no intention of purchasing any Dell equipment in the future. Here is how one person described his frustration:

“Dell is a classic example. The lost reputation of Dell is a number that cannot be calculated, but it is huge, hundreds of times larger than the money they saved by outsourcing customer service to India. For example, in our family, we will never again buy a product made by Dell, yet we have done so in the past. We have lost trust in the company, and they simply cannot get it back. From our perspective, their products are not even on the market at any price. They can say they have “learned their lesson,” but that will not bring us back as customers. A damaged reputation spreads out over a company like a kind of cancer. You cannot see it working unless you have some very sensitive instruments, but it is really there doing damage every day.”

I am trying to think of an analogy to use here. Try this one…

For a CEO to consider outsourcing customer service to save money due to lower labor costs, it is like taking a bath every day in the warm waste water from a nuclear plant. “What is the problem? The water is nice and warm, and it seems perfectly clean. I’ll just take a nice hot bath every day because this water is less costly than what I have at home, and I do not have to pay to heat it up.” Hello? Anybody home? Nope…I guess not!