Gaining Trust: How to Sustainably Generate More Of It

Sean Flaherty
Mar 16, 2016 · 8 min read
6 Ways to Purposefully Create More Trust in Your Organization

Trust is the new currency of business. — Stephen Covey

When we trust an organization, we do business with them whenever and wherever it makes sense without questioning it. If we don’t trust an organization, we look for alternatives and we spend a fortune over-evaluating their pricing and value model. Trust is extremely valuable. It is imperative for us to reduce the amount of time it takes for us to get our customer’s to cross the “Trust Threshold” and to give us a shot at their attention.

In “The Speed of Trust” by Stephen Covey, he poetically illustrates the value of trust in the business world. Without it, we add a tremendous amount of cost to each and every business transaction. Once we trust a brand to deliver on its promises, the next time we buy from them, the transaction costs go way down because we don’t have to spend as much time evaluating their promises. We have direct historical experience to draw upon from the past. The bigger the purchase, the more important this becomes. But where does trust really come from?

Trust, at its root, comes from experience. It could be from direct historical experiences, second hand stories from your peer group’s experiences or the stories that are produced by your marketing and sales teams. At the end of the day, how you make people feel with the evidence that you provide is at the root of all trust relationships. Whether we realize it or not, we spend most of our sales and marketing energy and dollars experimenting with ways to reduce the speed to trust with evidence.

Marketing is an exercise in minimizing the effort that our prospects have to exert to trust us.

Trust should trump most investments that you make in marketing. Behind each marketing dollar that you spend, you should have a very clear understanding of how it is building trust. Trust takes time to build and those micro-experiences matter deeply. There are many ways to gain trust. Here is a tool that I have found to be a powerful way to facilitate trust brainstorming with leadership teams. The more of each of these things that you invest in, the more trust you will predictably gain from your customers:

Six Ways to Gain More Trust

Reputation. Be who you say you are. Be honest. Maintain your integrity over time.

This is why most companies invest in testimonials, case studies and third party validations. These are core marketing and sales tools because they gain trust. They demonstrate that you keep your promises and have historically earned the trust of others. Every one of your customers should be a willing reference for you. One of the easiest ways to earn trust is through others who trust you. This is why social media marketing can work so well.

Trust spreads like wildfire when you are trustworthy.


Commitment. Make promises. Keep them. Talk about them. When you actually make bold, short term commitments and keep them, you earn respect and trust. Even the smallest commitments matter. The language of commitment is really important to building trust. A clear and honest commitment represents the ultimate form of respect for your customers. Read these two simple statements and notice how they make you feel:

“Give us your email address and we will register you for our blog.”


“Give us your email address and we promise to keep you informed of the latest trends in software product development on the second business tuesday of every month.”

The former gives you the opportunity to then say, in the header of your blog notification: “We promised to keep you informed on the latest trends in software product development. Here is our curated list of articles for the month.” That subtle difference in language can be impactful and the reminder that you are keeping your promises is an important part of the formula.


Consistency. Pay attention to the language that you use and make sure your team, your software products and your marketing materials are using language consistently. Speak honestly. Don’t use spin or jargon that is not clearly defined or creates a smoke screen. Never use manipulative marketing tactics. Forcing your customers to decipher your buzzword marketing moves them down the loyalty ladder. People notice contradictions and inconsistencies that occur when you use amorphous marketing language and it fractures your brand. Make sure the people that interact with your customers understand your company's lexicon and know how to use it. A great user experience needs clear and exciting language to support it.

Great user experience designers know that the words you use matter just as much as the art.

The same with the designs that go into the User Interfaces’s that you build for your customers. Invest in developing and maintaining a user interface “kit” that will help maintain a consistent and trustworthy look and feel across all of the digital experiences that your customers have. They shouldn’t have to learn a new interaction model with each new digital experience that you create.


Transparency. Open the kimono. Share more information and more knowledge. Be free with your information and insights. When people learn from you and grow from the knowledge and wisdom that you create and share in the world, they learn to trust you. Take a hard look at your core operations and each of your customer experience touch points and figure out how to use the data that you have to improve transparency and build trust. The more transparency you create in the business environment, the more trust you breed. Whether it’s with your employees, your supervisors, your vendors or your customers, greater transparency always breeds more trust. If you work to hide information, control relationships and create a mysterious veil of superiority between your firm and your customers, over time, you destroy the trust relationship. If you look for creative ways to improve transparency at every turn — you build trust.

Simpler things tend to feel more transparent. Unnecessary complexity reduces trust. A great example of that is the government or the legal field.

Here are some questions to ask of your organization:

  • What information can you provide to your customers that your competitors are not providing?
  • What data, information or insights can you draw and share with your customers to make them more individually successful in the context of your business?
  • What knowledge can you provide for your customers that will help the in their careers?
  • What wisdom can you impart on your industry with the knowledge that you create in your organization?
  • How could you make things simpler and more transparent for everyone?

Vulnerability. Be human. Be humble. Tell the world the truth about your imperfections and be open to criticism. There is no need to apologize for your mistakes and your imperfections if you are willing to clean up the mess and stand behind your products or services. Marketers tend to try their hardest to make everything appear to be perfect. In his book, All Marketers Are Liars, by Seth Godin, he explains why authenticity and vulnerability are a better strategy for marketing. I sum it up like this:

People will always trust imperfection with integrity over a perfect facade.

If you have ever used Yelp to find a restaurant, you will know what i’m talking about in this simple thought experiment:

Imagine you are in a new city and you are hankering for some Mexican food. You pull up your trusty Yelp app on your mobile device and you search for “Mexican food near me.” Lots of results pop up and the first that catches your eye has a 5 star review! With 5 reviews.

If you are anything like me (and most of the people that I have had in my workshops over the last many years), you instantly thought to yourself: The Chef, his head waiter, his best friend, his mother and maybe his girlfriend provided the first reviews. We naturally don’t trust perfection. It is not human to be perfect.

The next review has 4.6 stars and 120 reviews. Where are you going?


Listening. When you listen to your customers with the intent to understand, you build trust. When you listen with the intent to respond or react to your customers, you participate in a transaction. When your intent is to understand, and you have a commitment to always learning and growing, your customers will grow to trust you. More importantly: demonstrate that you listen.

Studies have shown that people are influenced more by negative reviews than by positive reviews. When I read ratings, I scroll straight to the negative reviews first — that’s where I find the helpful data. Continuing on the restaurant theme above, especially with food, we know that it is impossible for a restaurant to make every person perfectly happy all of the time. But imagine if, while reading the negative restaurant reviews, you can see the chef in there responding to each person as if they cared.


If you work these six brainstorming tools into your customer experience strategy, you are sure to generate trust and pull more of your users over the “Trust Threshold.” The more you invest in each one, in fact, the more overall trust you will create. The more you empower the people on the front lines with this knowledge, the more sustainably you will build a culture of trust in your organization.

Sean Flaherty

Written by

Technologist. Philosopher. Inspirer.

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