There’s something every successful business enjoys. No, it isn’t just great products or growing revenues. It’s the trust of their customers. That sounds obvious, but it’s deceptively hard to develop and maintain. First you need to respect them, by delivering what you promise. But you also want to try to make them feel like they’re partners in your business – and the way to do that is by talking to them.

You want them to feel that you’re there to help make their lives better, not just to take money off them. So you need to find out what they want and expect from you and how they think you can improve on what you’re already doing.

I’m a new Dad and I’ve been really impressed by how baby-product manufacturers do a great job of making parents feel a part of their team. They don’t try to pretend they know best how to care for a baby, because they understand that no one knows a baby better than its own mum and dad. Instead, they say to parents: “We want to help you to take the best care of your children by making the products you require to do that – just tell us what you need.”

They really do use the feedback they receive from parents to help design new products, because they know mums and dads are the best R&D lab. Parents in turn take the effort to offer their ideas, because they are confident that the companies will respond by producing something new that will help to make their lives easier. If only more businesses followed their example and included customers in their product development.
Welcome all feedback – even if it’s negative

There are plenty of ways of getting feedback, from the old-fashioned method of talking to your customers to virtual chat rooms. Social media offers you a great way to communicate with your clients. But it also provides them with a way to vent their anger if something goes wrong, so if a customer uses your Facebook page or Twitter account to complain, then you must respond quickly. One of the best ways you can show them respect is by responding quickly to their enquiries, suggestions and complaints.

You need to be open and honest with your customers if you don’t want to lose their trust. That includes putting your hand up to acknowledge when things go wrong. If your warehouse staff is having a bad day, or your sales department has a couple of people off sick, then those are likely to affect your service to your customers. What’s more, they will know they’re not getting good service from you and will not hesitate to tell you. So it’s important that you acknowledge any shortcomings and explain to your clients what you’re doing to put them right.

In my opinion, some companies aren’t always dealing with customer complaints quickly and effectively. They seem to snap into action very quickly after negative comments are posted about them on social media. But is there more they could do to help people before it gets to that stage?

I don’t think anyone expects a firm to be perfect at all times, but what we expect is that a firm fronts up and apologises if it makes a cock-up. What’s important is that the firm tries to sort the problem out as quickly as it can. If you can reassure your customers that you won’t make the same mistake twice then you’re unlikely to lose their trust. In fact, they might even have more respect for you as a result.