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Do our customers trust us?

Have you noticed that customers and prospects seem more difficult to deal with these days? It seems they want to challenge our sales presentations at every turn. They act tough, adverse and suspicious. Why, you’d think they don’t trust us. Fact is, they probably don’t!

Arguably, trust in all businesses has plunged in recent years, likely hitting rock bottom during the economic crash last fall. Why? For openers, think back to Enron, Worldcom, Tyco and others. Or, more recently, as Steven Pearlstein described in the Washington Post: The proxy sent to stockholders of Bank of America seeking their approval to spend $50 billion to buy up Merrill Lynch stated that Merrill has agreed not to award bonuses to employees for ’08 without first getting written approval from Bank of America. Oops, it left out the fact that Bank of America officials had already granted that permission for bonus payments of $5.8 billion! When things like that are uncovered, is it any wonder mistrust spreads to everything.

It appears we, as consumers, have come to the point where we don’t know who to trust so we just don’t trust at all. Certainly we’ve lost trust in businesses and even institutions like banks, investment advisors and government regulatory agencies that we thought would keep us from meltdowns. The Harvard Business Review reportedly surveyed readers about the level of trust they have in businesses: 75 percent of the respondents said they felt less overall trust in top management of America’s companies; nearly 50 percent had less trust in consultants; and 20 percent even reported lower levels of trust in academic institutions, suppliers and customers. So, is it any wonder our customers come into our dealerships carrying an untrusting demeanor?

Actually, business can only blame itself. Sadly, in recent years, success in business was measured only by how much wealth it created for top management and the shareholders. But with such a focus of greed now blamed for much of our crumbling economy, change is clearly taking place. For example, the Harvard MBA program has begun teaching candidates that they must build a “culture of candor” in businesses now. This, after a Harvard professor surveyed MBA students and found that their definition of right and wrong was simply whatever happened to be the norm . . . or a follow-the-crowd mentality.

Given all this, establishing a relationship in which our customers and prospects trust us will not be easy. We must first demonstrate that we have a sincere interest in their well-being -- that we genuinely care about them. We must be transparent and truthful in everything we claim about our products and the kind of services we will provide. No hyperbole, no assertions we can’t or won’t back up, and no ambiguous offers, implied or otherwise.

I think it’s always been true that people want to do business with people they trust. But, given the circumstances that surround us today, we must purpose to build trust.

Enjoy today’s “How I Discovered Boating” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBDnlF7qA-8

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