Maintaining and Building Customer Trust in the Face of an Economic Downturn

Techniques to Keep Customers Confident in their Brand Experience

Customer Trust

A lot is being written on how the potential economic recession will affect companies and the customers that interact with them. Layoffs in the tech sector continue, and are inundating the news cycle.

Companies will need to pay close attention to their wide-ranging customer touchpoints, and attempt to strike the balance between potential decreased investments and budget cuts versus the potential of losing customer trust and business. In Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer 2022 Report, a survey found that 88% of customers believe trust becomes more important in time of change.

In times of uncertainty, consumers will be looking not only for potential cost savings, but also for reliable, easy, and empathic interactions they can count on. Companies can lean into several CX strategies and technologies to help maintain and build trust as the potential economic volatility unfolds.

Mind the gap in expectations with clear communications

Companies have and will continue to face challenges in maintaining staffing in the face of labor reductions, and may have to make unpopular choices regarding hours or pricing. To combat negativity and to build a relationship of trust, companies must be open about these challenges and communicate them in a clear way. Tell the customer what is happening. Provide the precise details on the change and offer honest reasons. This approach helps set expectations, and if the company is transparent about both staffing issues and price increases a customer will likely be more understanding and perhaps even sympathetic. In the past month, while shopping or eating local establishments in my neighborhood, there have been an increasing number of signs posted, outlining why prices are increasing or why the businesses might be short-staffed. Rather than be angered I appreciated the honesty. I was not shocked when it came time to pay, and I knew exactly what to expect. For a restaurant with shortened hours, now I knew I would not be showing up and discovering they were closed, which would have left me mistrustful for future visits.In this small, local business example, maybe a sign in a window works, but companies will need to leverage multiple channels if there are customer-affecting changes.

Leverage personalization, but do not be creepy

Personalization can deepen relationships and bring moments of surprise or delight if done correctly. Everyone loves a personalized offer, delivered via a channel they most likein a cadence that is not intrusive. However, if taken too far, a customer can start to get concerned about privacy issues and the use of personal data. In their quest to potentially provide offers that are just right for their customers, companies will need to watch out for any tendencies to overreach in this area

Maintain consistency and connection

In times of turbulence,consumers’ abilities to face change may be limited. This might not be the time to break out big product changes, new processes, or policies. Customers may be seeking experiences that are consistent and reliable. Rapid change can cause backlash. An example of this is the recent change Dunkin made to their loyalty program, which the company said was based on customer feedback. The company overhauled the program and faced the wrath of a large swath of coffee drinkers, particularly on social media channels.

Aside from using consistency to maintain trust, companies should seek ways to forge emotional connections and show empathy, helping to deepen trust and loyalty. A good example of this is contact centers that train agents how to have empathic exchanges with customers, rather than transactional ones. It really just takes one negative instance to ruin a long-held, trusted relationship with a brand. People tend to have brands that are favorites, often trusting that if something does not go how they would like with their service or product, they know the issue will be taken care of in an efficient, caring, and pleasant way. One instance, or worse yet, multiple instances of that not occurring breaks that pattern of trust.

Broaden customer listening, but do not ask for feedback unless it can be acted on

Tied into the “expectation gap” issue is knowing what the expectations are if they were met and what can be done to meet them better the next time around. This endeavor needs to go beyond surveying to a variety of listening channels and opportunities. Direct feedback often does not catch the voices of a majority of customers, so companies need to ensure that a broader range of voices are being heard. This should include social media listening and review management.

Key to this is the follow through, whether it be an actual action taken, or a communication on why it might not be taken. If customers are repeatedly asked for their feedback and the feedback loop is not closed, or feedback is not addressed in some way, customers will grow weary of the direct feedback asked for, and ignore it moving forward. They will lose trust in the idea that their voice matters and become frustrated with the relationship.

Companies should always be striving to avoid actions that will turn customers into detractors and instead should focus on activities to develop promoters. Finding ways to build and maintain trust is a solid step as customers seek solid ground during these waves of economic uncertainty.

Author Information

As a detail-oriented researcher, Sherril is expert at discovering, gathering and compiling industry and market data to create clear, actionable market and competitive intelligence. With deep experience in market analysis and segmentation she is a consummate collaborator with strong communication skills adept at supporting and forming relationships with cross-functional teams in all levels of organizations.

She brings more than 20 years of experience in technology research and marketing; prior to her current role, she was a Research Analyst at Omdia, authoring market and ecosystem reports on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and User Interface technologies. Sherril was previously Manager of Market Research at Intrado Life and Safety, providing competitive analysis and intelligence, business development support, and analyst relations.

Sherril holds a Master of Business Administration in Marketing from University of Colorado, Boulder and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rutgers University.


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