Chain of Thought

Trust isn't Built—It's Grown

A conversation just got started on MH&L's LinkedIn discussion group and I couldn't resist pirating the topic for my blog. You might find it ironic that the topic I'm pirating is about trust, and how little of it is associated with American companies any more. I justify my piracy with the knowledge that you trust this blog to be interesting and relevant, so here goes.

According to the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, which came out earlier this year, only 8 percent of people believe what companies say about themselves. The person who started this discussion on our LinkedIn discussion group wanted to know how fellow group members—particularly marketing folks—are helping their companies re-build that trust which is so vital in today's highly-competitive business environment.

I dug a little deeper into the findings of the Edelman barometer and learned that the most important corporate reputation factors are quality products, trust, transparency, and employee welfare. That resonated with me because I just interviewed a guy from a company that relies heavily on feedback from customers to maintain the quality of its products—and therefore the trust of those customers.

The company is Hubert Products, a major supplier to the foodservice industry. It offers 30,000 products in its catalog, including everything from displays and food prep equipment to employee uniforms and tableware. Many of these products are breakable, so Tim Lansing, vice president of operations, relies on feedback from customers to help his company raise their quality bar.

When you manage 30,000 different SKUs, nothing is easy—least of all finding out why some of them break during the journey to the customer. To do that Lansing sits down with a group of key players in all of Hubert's operational areas and asks how they can best act on the information from those customers when they call in with damage issues. They came up with a series of credit codes for customer service to use in reporting damage. Then behind the scenes Hubert's IT department is able to grab that information and put it in the form of a report to feed it back to the company's process owners, including shipping and packaging. That information goes into a monthly chart that matches those codes to the people who have ownership of those codes.

If it's a packaging issue, the manager in shipping will often get together with the merchandise manager and product manager who are Hubert's contacts with vendors. There will then be a three-way conversation on how the company can improve the packaging of the product in question. If they decide on a change then the associates in packing and shipping are retrained accordingly.

Today, what started as a way for Hubert to improve its internal operations has spread to its supply chain partners.

“Once we had all this information we said we need to share this with our suppliers and transportation providers and hope they'll make changes to improve their processes and eliminate some of these errors,” Lansing told me. “We went this route because we have such a diversity of customers that require customization.”

Hubert also has a diversity of suppliers—about 900 manufacturers located around the world. Hubert holds them accountable for meeting its packaging specs and it audits these companies to make sure they're meeting those requirements.

So, back to that question: “Are your customers involved in the trust building process?” Maybe building is the wrong word. Hubert's Tim Lansing cultivates it through a series of internal and external supply chain verifications. Building implies a once and done procedure. Cultivation must be done every season to ensure results. I hope you have a rich harvest.

Postscript: Doug Chovan, principal of Chovan Communications, sent along the following comment in response to this blog post:

Tom,

Great post on the subject of growing trust in the current economy. Especially liked your take on cultivating vs. building trust and that creating trust is not a "once and done" procedure, but an ongoing pursuit. This is especially true in an ever-increasing customer-driven economy. All the more reason B2B companies in particular need to produce a constant flow of high-value content that is also customer-driven.

In their book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith note that "the whole world has shifted, knocked off its pillars by the ripples from companies that aren't treating people as though they're important, inside or out. The need for trust has grown."

Cultivating trust is more important than ever before. Shining the spotlight on your most satisfied customers and making them feel important is one of the most powerful and effective ways to do just that.

Doug Chovan

Principal

Chovan Communications, LLC

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