In the new paperback Company of One, designer Paul Jarvis argues that getting big is no longer the symbol of business success. I agree, as some of the most dynamic companies today, from Basecamp to MailChimp, focus on agility rather than girth.
The smaller you are, though, the more you need to build and keep trust. Corporations may be able to better skate through public trust issues. Small businesses tend to feel every bump on the road.
In Company of One, Jarvis shares MIT professor Glen Urban's groundbreaking work on customer trust. It comes down to three basic ideas.
I believe what you say
Confidence is your customer thinking you are telling the truth. This may be the toughest dimension of trust to build, as it requires you show up again, and again, and again. It requires you to follow through on what you promise.
As I shared recently, attention is much easier to get than trust, that's because consistency is hard.
How consistent were you with your service before you pivoted or, more dramatically, gave up? Conscious pivots can be smart, if not wonderful decisions. But letting something just run out of steam is a whole different ballgame.
I believe you have the skills to do what you say
Competence is your customer believing you have the resources and skills to do the job. Corporations have an advantage here: It's easier to think a billion-dollar, multi-national company won't fumble the ball.
As solopreneurs, consultant and small business owners, we can build competence trust by making a powerful impact with our work. We don't need a huge staff or a skyscraper office. We are going beyond expectations with the resources on hand.
I believe you're acting on my behalf
Benevolence is your customer seeing you be their advocate. Of the three aspects of trust, benevolence may be the one most associated with smaller companies. The more customers feel like a number, the less likely they believe in a business having their best interest in mind (or having them in mind at all).
Just this month, a former Google exec said the company culture has completely ditched its famous motto, "Don't be evil":. As Inc.'s Cameron Albert-Deitch reported:
While LaJeunesse isn't the only one who's lobbed this particular criticism at Google, he presents a detailed personal account of what he's seen as the slow erosion of that three-word motto--in the company's decision-making and its workplace culture--to prioritize profits over doing the right thing.
Google obviously has competence, but confidence is eroding and benevolence was literally ditched as its north star.
What elements of trust would customers say about your business?