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6 Ways CMOs Can Build Customer Trust

This article is part of our April 2019 series about customer experience. Click here for more.

Trust is the cornerstone of customer intimacy.

More than ever, it’s important for companies—and their CMOs—to view trust as a competitive advantage. By considering how every action might increase or detract from its customers’ level of trust, a company can differentiate itself and boost customer acquisition and loyalty.

Here are six steps you can take to do exactly that.

1. Design A Trust Strategy
It all starts with creating a roadmap for building trust and publishing a set of values that reflect how your organization will use your customer data. Work with your C-suite to set up a framework for accountability across the organization, then use it to guide your marketing strategies and initiatives.

Be sure to translate the attributes of trust across all platforms and touch points. Every interaction with a customer should promote reliability, transparency, and privacy with consistent messaging—whether you’re engaging with customers at trade shows, via social media, or through customer support. Trust takes a hit when customers have a fragmented experience and feel like you don’t know them—or that you’re not listening to them.

2. Add Security To Your Job Description
Marketers are at the epicenter of customer and product interaction and they handle reams of customer data every day. Providing good security means protecting that data from misuse or disclosure to internal and external threats.

If you haven’t already, it’s high time to meet with your company’s chief information security officer (CISO) to review your company’s security policy. Then make sure your team understands best practices around how to store, move, and share customer data. Be sure to document this policy, use it to onboard new marketing hires, and make it readily accessible online through your company’s intranet. You should also consider developing a set of talking points that marketing staff can use to answer questions related to the company’s use of customer data.

Keep in mind that there is an inherent tension between marketers who want information to flow freely and CISOs who want to keep it locked up tight. A collaborative approach is the best way to balance customer centricity with customer safety.

3. Make Privacy Paramount
For better or worse, marketers are in the privacy business now.

Respecting privacy means giving customers control over how and where their data is stored, accessed, and used. It also means understanding what customers intend to share, with whom, and for what purpose, and then making sure to respect those boundaries.

If that sounds like a huge undertaking, you’re right. But CMOs don’t need to create a privacy strategy from scratch. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulates how companies must protect EU citizen’s personal data. The United States is following suit with the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). Even if you don’t have operations in California, it’s likely that you have customers who live there. Plus, the law is likely to set the standard for nationwide privacy protection, since organizations may not want to maintain two privacy frameworks—one for California residents and one for all other citizens.

Marketers should use these standards as a starting point and then layer on additional, company-specific privacy policies. Make sure this information is published, easily accessible, and used to train marketing and customer support staff.

4. Don’t Forget About Fairness
Being fair means understanding the impact of your organization on groups and individuals. While technology has the power to greatly improve people’s lives, it can also reinforce existing societal biases and unintentionally create new ones. Marketers have to get even better at listening to customers, aligning with their values, and being more inclusive. That means looking beyond gender and race to consider additional factors that inform a customer’s identity: language, religion, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status, geography, interests and hobbies, and more.

The business case for fairness in marketing is simple: It bolsters the bottom line. Look at the incredible success of Mattel, which incorporated customer feedback the company had been getting for years and launched a line of Barbies representing different races and body shapes. (The Ava DuVernay Barbie sold out in 20 minutes!) 

5. Raise The Bar For Reliability
As marketers, the best thing we can do is deliver a consistent experience that customers can count on. But it isn’t easy. Marketers are often in charge of a vast universe of customer interactions that span community, customer care, and the call center.

Reliability requires delivering the results you said you would deliver across all of these areas. If your customers get one answer from a chatbot, another from the human who answers the phone, and a third from your website, you’re going to lose their trust—and their business.

6. Be Transparent
I remember the last time one of my favorite websites went down. The explanation for the outage from the company was so opaque that customers like me took to Twitter to try and make sense of it. We simply didn’t trust what we were hearing from the company directly, so we tried to work together to find a solution.

Transparency entails being open about your product, business model, and policies, and being able to explain them in clear terms to your customers. For example, if your pricing model is changing, consider describing why in a blog post. If a new release of your software has a bug, acknowledge it and let customers know when it will be fixed. And if you don’t have the answer, be clear about that as well.

Despite your best efforts, there’s always a chance that things can go wrong. When they do, respond quickly and decisively using a crisis communications plan that builds- rather than weakens trust.

There’s a clear opportunity for all companies to differentiate on trust—and marketers have a vital role to play in this process. This opportunity is particularly relevant for cloud-based companies, given that customer data is the lifeblood of their business. Once customers trust your company, they will share more data, use more services, and be less likely to abandon your products. And that, in turn, will drive your company’s growth and sustainability.

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