What Is Better Business?

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In 2015, I set out with members of the research staff at the Council of Better Business Bureaus to find out what a “better business experience” meant to contemporary consumers. 

By Craig Honick

We sat down with 20 individuals of varying ages, genders, ethnicities, and occupations in four different U.S. cities to listen to their stories about everyday encounters with businesses. We also surveyed 2,000 consumers in the United States and Canada as well as 1,500 businesses across the two countries.

While we were looking to discover how consumers interpret their experiences with businesses of all types (and we did), we discovered something very intriguing about how that mental framework is constructed.

Turns out that most of us decide we’ve had a positive business experience when we feel that the business we’re dealing with—or the individuals representing the business—respect us. Stated another way: A “better” business experience is one from which we come away feeling respected.

We then realized that, as consumers, we are inspired to trust businesses that respect us and that we look for businesses to exhibit certain “gestures,” or behaviors, that signify how likely we are to feel respected and, in turn, trust those businesses.

Voilà. The keys to earning trust with customers. These “gestures of trust” are to be Honest, Transparent, Proactive, Humble, and Equitable.


Be 
Honest: Provide all necessary information when it is most useful to the customer.

Be 
Transparent: No secrets. Be open and share without hesitation.

Be Proactive: Strive to bring value to customers without being asked.

Be Humble: Credit employees, customers and the community for your success. (You are part of something larger that supports your success.)

Be Equitable: Share power with customers.

We’ve been talking about this discovery and getting feedback about it from businesses and consumers across the United States and even most recently at a trust symposium in Brazil. It seems that these gestures provide a solid framework for both assessing and building trust within customer relationships. If the relationship is good, it is likely so because both parties readily exhibit the 5 Gestures; if it is poor, the reverse is probably true.

This is very helpful to businesses and consumers who desire positive, sustainable relationships.

More important, however, are the implications these five gestures have for all relationships in our lives. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer found that trust is at an all-time low with respect to brands, government, and the media, most markedly in the United States. We have become, it appears, polarized, and this polarization is rooted in mistrust of one another.

Can we apply the 5 Gestures of Trust to both assess and rebuild trust between and among us? Is the same mental framework we use to assess whether we can and should trust a business the same we use to determine whether we can trust our elected leaders, the media, one another?

Think about elected leaders, media outlets, your coworkers, significant others, kids, parents, siblings, neighbors. Are they Honest, Transparent, Proactive, Humble, Equitable? Do they embrace these characteristics and practice them or do they habitually violate them? How about you and how you interact with them? How does that make you feel?

Would love to hear your thoughts. And would love to see your gestures.

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about the 5 Gestures of Trust? Read our article on this dynamic report from the summer 2018 issue of TRUSTED magazine. You may even delve into the report further by visiting our report site


Craig Honick is Managing Partner of Metro Tribal, a market insight and brand-story development firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Seattle. He is an applied ethnographer and veteran marketing consultant. For more than 20 years, he has surfaced and reconstructed the narratives that individuals and groups use to guide their daily choices. With this insight, he has helped corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies successfully position their brands, products, and services to customers as well as their own employees.