Building customer trust remotely in service-based industries
Building customer trust remotely—and maintaining it—is one of the most vital aspects of keeping a business afloat in the new era of COVID-19. With the rapid shift towards engaging with your customers virtually as stay-home orders move services to the remote sphere, this is a critical moment for building trust in new ways.
What trust gaps do your customers have to overcome to do business with you? Only by addressing them—and intentionally taking steps to bridge the divide—can you truly thrive in this new business environment.
Levels of trust vary by industry
Depending on your industry, there are different levels of trust needed before a customer will engage with your brand.
For retailers selling tangible products, like diapers or hammers, a customer will put more emphasis on the quality and value of the product itself and on the purchasing process than on their level of individual, personal trust in the seller.
In service-based industries, there is typically a greater need to intentionally—and immediately—address trust gaps. Outcomes depend on the relationship between brand and client, and trust in the quality of the company executing the service.
Is your service high-fidelity?
While service-based businesses tend to require more trust, the level of trust needed also depends on the nature of the service you provide.
Here I’ll define “high-fidelity” services as those requiring a high degree of confidentiality and an exchange of deeply personal information. Common examples include:
- financial services such as banking, accounting, and investing
- legal services
- medical services including doctors and therapists
For high-fidelity services, brands earn a great deal of trust from customers through repeated positive engagements with the brand. Once a relationship is established, clients aren’t likely to switch to a different brand providing a similar service—unless there is a grave breach of trust—because of the effort it would take to start from scratch with a new provider.
Non-high-fidelity industries are also service-based, but lack the depth of confidentiality. Take a hair salon for example. While the brand would still need to address a significant trust gap—as the customer would need to trust their stylist to take good care of their hair—there is less of a long-term, high-stakes commitment.
Would you be more likely to try a new hairdresser, or switch attorneys? Herein lies the difference between high-fidelity and non-high-fidelity services. By defining what bucket your brand is in, you can begin to identify your hurdles to building customer trust remotely and determine the size of the trust gap you have to fill.
Strategic ways to build trust remotely
If you find that you are a high-fidelity business, being transparent in your brand communications and demonstrating expertise and character is key. Here are a few strategic ways to communicate trust in a high-fidelity industry:
1. Embrace Digital Tools
The coronavirus has removed the luxury of resting upon your high-end office’s appearance to reflect industry prominence. We all have the same tools and a level playing field now. If you don’t find a new way to actively showcase your brand’s expertise, customers may turn away and find a brand that does.
In order to bridge the trust gap, you will have to pivot. This may mean going beyond your comfort zone to professionally engage with customers using video and other visual tools that you may not be used to. If it wasn't’ before, your website will need to be robust, user-friendly, and secure.
By investing time in developing your presence in the digital space, you can figure out how to not only compensate for what you would provide your clients in person but potentially provide even more value to them.
You’d be surprised at how slowly your competitors are moving with the changing times. Use this to your advantage by equipping yourself with the tools and expertise you need to stay ahead of the curve.
2. Provide value from the start
Offering value upfront is a strategic way to win the opportunity to demonstrate the value of your service by persuading potential clients to give you a try. A free trial of your service can be a critical marketing tool to bring in more business.
At Reconciled, we offer 2–4 weeks of free accounting services, up to $500 in value. During this trial period, prospective clients are required to provide access to their financial accounts, which serves two purposes: it enables us to demonstrate we are trustworthy, and requires them to “invest” in the relationship. When the trial period is up, if we have proven our worth and earned their trust, they’re likely to become paying clients because they have already spent their valuable time onboarding with us and have no reason to start over elsewhere.
To make this strategy successful, carefully define the scope of your free trial to be large enough to provide value, while still reserving time and energy for your paying clients. Also, depending on your industry, you may be required to make clear that you are not liable for any “free advice” provided during the trial as you were not retained as a paid service.
3. Start strong
The first two weeks of a relationship will define the majority of your client’s experience with your brand in the long-term. If you don’t knock it out of the park right off the bat, it’s nearly impossible to recover.
It is crucial to clearly demonstrate that you can provide equal or higher value to clients than your competitors can. Focus on a smooth, personal remote onboarding experience to leave an impression of value and trust. This will give you a huge advantage over brands resisting change, resting their hopes on things going “back to normal.”
Digital tools can help. When you sign a proposal with Reconciled, you get an immediate email back that tells you the next step. Automation makes it quick and convenient for us and for our clients.
Approach your customers with transparency, reliability, and consistent communication.
“I never heard back” is one of the most common reasons customers leave. Be accessible to your clients, be on time, and be clear on expectations. As with building employee relationships remotely, there is no such thing as “overcommunication” in the remote space.
Remote service is here to stay
COVID-19 has plunged previously face-to-face businesses into remote operation. It has demanded evolution and innovation. The trend towards remote-based service is not going away anytime soon. The bar for quality and digital value will only get higher.
Jump in today and equip yourself with the tools and techniques needed to embrace this new marketplace reality. In doing so, you will gain a competitive advantage that could not only keep you afloat, but propel your business’s growth.
Are you a high-fidelity business seeking insight on how to approach the “new normal”? I’d love to chat.
About This Contributor
I help people discover what’s possible in their professional lives, remove the obstacles that allow them to get more done, motivate them to take fresh action that produces positive results, and inspire them to live a life filled with meaning.