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What Do You Do When a Customer Loses Trust in You?

By Rick Segel
Retail Marketing Expert

Trust is a difficult thing to gain but it is a very easy thing to lose. My mother had an expression that she used all the time — she would say "There is nothing deader than dead love." 

She used that expression in so many different ways, from personal relationships to relationships with customers. My Mom passed away 13 years ago, and yet this week her quote came back to haunt me and make me think. (She was good at that.)

I have always believed that your integrity manifests itself in the trust that a customer gives you. That trust is your most important asset and should never to be violated. There is no sale that is more important than the value that a customer places in us. Our reputation is our gold.

One of the exercises I do in my seminars is that I will ask the audience what's the one thing a business can do that would prevent you from ever going back to that business again? Without fail, someone will say, "They cheated me!" Or "They lied to me!" And because of that, the customer will never return to that business.

But what is trust? I believe trust is a promise of what to expect from another person, leader, or business. I personally feel terrible that President Obama has lost the trust of so many people who voted for him. He simply made promises that he wasn't able to keep, and therefore lost the trust that he had built. Only time will tell if he can rebuild that trust, but this is article is not about politics. It's about running a business.

This past week I experienced a personal crisis in trust and integrity that might not be to the scale of the president, Bernie  Madoff,  Enron, or John Edwards. But to me it is something that quietly kept eating me up inside and a lesson that all of us can learn from. It comes in two parts. Here is the first part.

Last week on The Retailer's Advantage, I had promised to do a program on planning a business' buying utilizing the three basic and most popular ways of planning and controlling merchandise that a retailer needs to do business. I had advertised that I would have the proponents of the various methods (the traditional Open to Buy Method, Gross Margin Return on Inventory Invested Method better known as  GMROII, and my simple alternative the 40/55 formula or what I call Open to Thrive).

I traveled to Anaheim, Calif. to speak at the craft and Hobby show last week and I had planned on recording the session when I was out in California. However I simply forgot what I had promised and preceded to do the program without the two other guests.

Shame on me for not checking and double-checking what I had planned and promised. But then to make matters worse, when I went to record the session, the quality of the recording was as bad as it could get.

Yes I could certainly make the excuse that last week my computer had the worst virus that it could possibly ever have. I actually went out and bought a brand-new Apple MacBook Pro so that I would never be haunted by another virus again. But that would only be an excuse. I received a terrible blow from one of my listeners who said it was bad enough that the program was not as advertised but she couldn't even hear it. I lost her trust. Shame on me.

This person was not a subscriber to The Retailer's Advantage. However, she did spend $25 for a program that was not as promised and was inferior in quality. My mother's words haunted me because she was of the belief that you build a business one customer at a time. It is better to under promise and over deliver. I couldn't agree with her more, but I didn't do that.

I believe that people get into trouble, not for what they do but for trying to cover up for what they do. Richard Nixon would not have resigned if he had just admitted his involvement in Watergate. It's the cover-up that is worse than the crime. So this is how I am handling my violation of the customer's trust.

• Step 1 — I immediately refunded her money.

• Step 2 — I gave her a free membership to The Retailer's Advantage for a month.

• The Final Step — The final step was my sincere apology never to have that happen again.

Yes, I'm upset with myself for being so caught up in the actions of the day that I forgot my responsibilities. However, I'm pleased with myself that I addressed what I needed to address in the first part of this problem. But as I said there were two parts.

The second issue is that I have a team of people who are working extremely hard to build The Retailer's Advantage to become the preeminent retailers' membership site that is a true advantage to the independent retailer. You see, I did not just let the customer down. I let my team down as well. Oh sure, they will probably forgive me but I must work as hard as I can to regain some of the trust that I have lost.

These are the actions steps I plan on taking:

1. The first step is to admit what I had done and not try to hide it.

2. The second step is to demonstrate and maintain my level of integrity. I must be overly cautious about the promises I make so that I will not default on them.

3. The next step is to simply communicate better as to what I am able to accomplish and not. None of us get upset when we know what to expect and good communications helps us avoid problems before they become a problem

4. Treat my employees, subcontractors, and team members as equal partners. It is important to make people feel that they are important to me.

5. Lastly do the right thing, which is what I am trying to do in this situation. It somehow always works for me (as well as for so many other people).

Thank you for reading this and being part of my therapy. We can all learn from this lesson to maintain the trust of our customers by keeping our promises, which will in turn keep our relationships alive and well. Thanks Mom for a lesson I thought I knew but I guess I didn't. Somehow I think you're smiling.

Posted February 8, 2010


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