In part 1 of this series, we explored a few of the ways that small business owners can increase customers’ perception of trust in their businesses (and improve their small business marketing as a result).

Here are some additional ideas for how small businesses can build trust with customers:

  • Don’t punish everyone for one person’s mistake. Have you ever seen a restaurant or store with signs on the door saying: “CASH ONLY! NO CHECKS!” “RESTROOMS ARE FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY! NO LOITERING!” “ABSOLUTELY NO REFUNDS, ALL SALES ARE FINAL!” Here’s the problem with this approach: you’re treating all of your customers as “guilty until proven innocent.” Just because one customer bounced a check, or one customer lingered too long at the store restroom without buying anything, or one customer was painful to deal with in asking for a refund, now the store forces all of its customers to see these signs (and feel a little less trusted and a little less welcome). Rules are useful, but it’s more important to build trusting relationships with customers who feel comfortable buying from you, and who want to keep buying from you for the long term.
  • Preserve your company’s public reputation. Even if your business is great at serving customers and delivering an excellent product, you can still lose trust with customers by your public statements and actions. Restaurants can suffer a big drop in business from one bad visit from the health inspector, even if the food looks great on the diners’ plates. Poorly planned statements to the media, or hostile, inflammatory or misleading public comments on Facebook, Yelp or other online forums, can reflect badly on your company, even if your everyday customer experience is not directly involved. Be careful about who you authorize to serve as a spokesperson for your company. If you have multiple employees, create a media policy (including social media) to ensure that your employees do not try to speak on behalf of your company without authorization: you need a consistent voice to promote your company and answer questions from customers and others, with no confusion or misleading information (even if it’s being done with good intentions).
  • Hire and promote trustworthy people – no exceptions. People who play fast and loose with their ethics (business or personal) should not be allowed to represent your company. Listen to your intuition and “go with your gut” if you’re trying to decide whether a new hire is trustworthy. Listen to small talk and the stories people tell about their personal lives. If one of your employees boasts about getting a sweet deal on some new electronic equipment from their cousin who works at the store (“And the manager doesn’t even know about it!”), or brags about skimming some money off their tax bill (“The IRS will never know the difference!”), or writes on Facebook or Twitter about how annoying their customers are…well, those people are likely to shortchange or underdeliver for your company, as well. Deciding who to trust is one of the most important decisions for a business owner and manager to make. It’s not always easy, but if you get it right, hiring only the most trustworthy employees can save your company a huge amount of money and a priceless amount of value to your brand and reputation.

Starting a business and navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship takes a lot of patience and tolerance for the complexities and inconsistencies of human behavior. As much as we try to make business a “science” with predictable rules and repeatable processes, ultimately much of it is an art of improvisation and adapting to changing circumstances. Some customers will disappoint you, but most will do the right thing. Make sure you earn the trust of your customers, and maintain the trust that you have. Trust is hard to build and all too easy to lose.

Are you ready to create a more trustworthy image for your business? CorpNet offers free tools and information on how to do a corporate name search, incorporate a business, register an LLC, and other resources to get your new business up-and-running – or add a new level of protection and prestige for your existing business operations.