Why Your Customers Don’t Trust You

Use these tips to gain customer trust and improve your bottom line.

Do you trust me? Better yet, do your customers trust you? Even more importantly do you know the elements important for building customer trust?

Trust is an issue approached and researched every year in the Edelman Trust Barometer and it’s one report that never goes unread in this office. To truly understand how to communicate with people and (WARNING: bottom line truth coming up) convince them to do business with our clients, it is imperative that we, as marketers, understand where people’s trust lies and what truly impacts those feelings.

How to Build Customer Trust

This year in their report, Edelman included a wonderful list of attributes that establish and build trust between an organization and its constituents. That list looks something like this:

Edelman Customer Trust Attributes List

Let’s explore those attributes of trust and see if we can’t find some areas for improvement.


So what do people think about when they look to trust a company? Engagement and transparency may be buzzwords in the industry, but they got there by being important to people who spend money. Things like whether or not a company listens to customer feedback, whether or not they treat their employees well, how apparent it is that profits come before customers and the frequency and honesty of public conversations are the main driving points for engagement that dictate trust.

Most of these are quickly dismissed by companies, which is unfortunate because these are not only the most important issues for customers, but also the ones that are mostly handled incorrectly across all industries. Sure, it’s easy to say “We consistently get good responses in our customer feedback surveys,” or “Our employees don’t hate us,” or “We have a sign that reads ‘The Customer is Always Right’,” but the real tough work comes into play when you have to take a hard look at your corporate culture and value proposition to see if you’re truly listening to customer feedback instead of just taking it, and really asking what your employees would change about their working conditions if they could, or taking a stand on an issue that may lose you money because it’s the right thing to do for your customers.

That’s where trust is built. Where do you land when it really comes to trustworthy engagement with your audience?

Consider This: When was the last time a service, product or company update was used from a customer complaint/suggestion? What about an employee complaint/suggestion? Try working in some “behind the curtains” posts when you’re planning out your next round of social updates, even if it makes your skin crawl to be that open in a public forum.


This is one of those truths that are self-evident: the more likely people feel your company has and acts with integrity, the more likely they are to trust you. I’ve read my share of Arthur Conan Doyle, but you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that correlation.

If your company operates with ethical business practices, if you accept responsibility for your actions and communicate with transparency, according to Edelman (and everyone else with common sense) your customers will be likely to trust you. This is another bundle of things every company knows, but knowing it and doing it can sometimes be world’s apart. Honestly, how much easier is it to try and skirt an issue or deny blame for a mistake than publicly stating “We know what happened was unfortunate and it was a mistake. We are sorry”? People are much more forgiving that we tend to give them credit for and if Lance Armstrong, Kobe Bryant and Milli Vanilli have taught us anything, it’s that dragging out a lie looks a whole lot worse than simply apologizing and learning from a mistake.

Businesses and CEOs have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to gaining back trust. Simply stating that you have ethical business practices won’t cut it anymore. In a world where everything is public and everything can be broadcasted, your customers need a little more convincing.

Consider This: Take a look at your crisis communication plan (this is assuming your company has one). If step one isn’t “Apologize for the Mistake”, you might want to think about revising it. Find a place in the beginning of your policy to include the Three As of a corporate crisis: Acknowledge, Apologize, Act.

Products & Services

At first glance, this might seem like a strange addition to the list. Even more strange that it’s in the middle and not a tack-on afterthought, but when it really comes down to it, this may be one of the most important areas to pay attention to when trying to build customer trust within your target markets. Before social media and online communications, the first two aspects of this list almost didn’t exist. Sure, you had TV commercials, radio ads, magazine placements and the like, but very few people truly trusted those as faithful representations of how a company actually was. Trust was built almost entirely by the quality of your merchandise and the effectiveness of your services. We’ve kind of drifted away from that type of thinking in recent years; which is why my grandparents washing machine is still going strong and I’m almost on the last leg of the one I bought myself not 8 years ago.

It’s imperative that you spend the time to create products that solve problems and, here’s the kicker, actually do what you’ll say they’ll do. The same sentiment also goes for the services you provide. Edelman also points out that whether or not you’re perceived as an innovator of new products, services and ideas plays a part in building trust. When you are seen as a thought leader, risk taker, and industry driver, people let down their guards a bit and trust you know what yo’re doing (it also helps if you occasionally succeed due to actually knowing what you’re doing).

Consider This: At the last new product/service planning meeting, was the phrase “We can probably leave that out. It’s expensive and the customers might not even notice” ever uttered? If it was, start approaching problems more from the angle of “what will solve and exceed ALL of my customers’ needs with this particular issue” as opposed to “what can we leave out to have this launch next week”? Everyone remembers being disappointed as a child after begging for something you saw in a TV commercial only to find out the Teenage Ninja Turtle Sewer Set broke after once use and wasn’t big enough for your toys to fit in and play. Don’t be the Teenage Ninja Turtles Sewer Set.


This one could just as easily be labelled “Social Accountability.” All of the elements listed by Edelman for this section revolve around programs to help the local communities, steps to protect the environment, addressing societal needs, and working with non-profits, so it would appear that stepping outside of the corporate walls to show empathy and compassion in the world around you makes a difference to people who want to give you money.

A lot of times, things that encompass a company’s purpose are encapsulated within it’s Vision Statement or Mission Statement. Having said that, the fact that outreach is mentioned in a Vision/Mission Statement nohow guarantees that it will be implemented or carried out.

Consider This: Try setting up a monthly charity or cause that your company can support in the local community. Take a Saturday and have the team (or a department at a time) build houses with Habitat for Humanity or find a Charitable Fun Run to do as a group. Also, there are a lot of holiday opportunities with Goodwill and Secret Santa organizations. It sounds mean to say “be charitable to gain customer trust,” because you should honestly be charitable because it’s the right thing to do, but that doesn’t always motivate every CEO.


Are your executives known and liked? Do you consistently bring in earnings for investors? Are you Nationally or Internationally ranked for something? If the answer to these questions are “yes” then you pretty much have this area buttoned up. While not every company can simply “get Internationally ranked as a world leading company,” there are definitely some organizations or awards within your niche that you can aspire towards.

Your executives don’t have to make a huge gestures, sometimes all it takes is noticing something in the community and taking time to appreciate it. Again, this is hinging on the possibility of sounding overly in support of disingenuous actions and that’s not my point. My point is that if systems are built into the fabric of your organization that allow for transparency and success to be noticed, you will be in a prime position to built trust within your customer base and trust can correspond to a happy bottom line.

Consider This: Are the only times stakeholders are thought of during Stakeholder Planning Meetings? Is your CEO well-known in the community or a hobbit-like recluse, hiding in his mansion calling into the night for his lost sled? If you have a blog, that’s a great way to get your CEO’s voice out into the world and working to increase the bottom line for investors will always make people happy.


We’ve been on a journey today, but I hope that you trusted me that we were talking about something important. It’s important that your customers trust you so they feel comfortable giving you their money. It’s important for companies to understand what aspects make up those elements of trust for customers in order to align business actions and objectives with them in mutually beneficial ways. It’s also important to realize that we all have jobs to do, and we all have to trust and rely on someone to make sure things run smoothly.

How important do you think trust in in your industry? Is there an industry or service where trust doesn’t really play into the equation? I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.



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