Martha Rogers: Brands must become extremely trustworthy to retain customer favour

CMO catches up with the customer engagement expert and author on why proactive trust has become the last bastion of competitive advantage


Brands who don’t start embracing trust as a corporate philosophy and proactively protect the interests of their customers will find themselves very quickly out of the competitive running.

That’s the view of Martha Rogers, a world-leading expert on customer engagement and one-to-one marketing. Rogers has written nine books on the subject in partnership with business partner and fellow CX commentator, Don Peppers. Collectively, these have sold more than 1 million copies in 18 languages.

Their most recent collaboration is entitled, Extreme Trust: Turning Proactive Honesty and Flawless Execution into Long-Term Profits, and features examples of brands doing just that. It’s only by going to extreme lengths when it comes to trustworthiness that organisations will thrive, the pair say.

CMO caught up with Rogers at the recent WOBI World of Business Forum Sydney to hear more about the forces making proactive trust a corporate must, and where marketing fits in to the modern picture.

You talk about how organisations today are competing on trust because it’s the only lasting differentiator for a business. Why has trust become this last bastion of competitive advantage?

Martha Rogers: Before the mass marketing era, everyone lived in small towns and they all had to trust each other. There was no privacy either. We then progressed to the ‘mass’ era, which has lasted for a little over 100 years, and there was no privacy either, but there was anonymity. We’re really not losing our privacy today; we’re losing our anonymity.

We’re now living in an era more akin to pre-mass, but with the addition of perfect information on everybody. Not only are digital and intelligence-based technologies driving efficiencies – we can do a lot of things faster, cheaper and better – they’re making things a lot more transparent, too. Such rising levels of transparency means companies can’t hide things, even if they want to.

That being the case, we need to think about how to operate in a world where extreme trust, transparency and honesty are the status quo. I’m not talking about giving away the formula for the secret sauce, but I am talking about our ability to try and do the best we can, and have everyone know about it.

The other reason why trust is vital is we have these tools helping us do things we couldn’t do before. For example, the Internet of Things makes it possible for your printer to know when it’s running out of ink, order it from Amazon, and have it appear on your desk before it runs out so you never have to think about it again.

As these interactions become automated, what then matters? It’s the relationship with the customer. The experience becomes the competitive advantage.

But the customer has to trust brands to make all of this work. Companies are going to have a lot of our information and a lot of responsibility as a result. As a consumer, you have to trust the process, as well as trust no one is taking advantage of you. You have to trust the inkjet cartridge is the real thing and not something else, because you didn’t pick it out yourself.

What are the key pillars of trust brands must be held accountable to?

The belief brands are doing the right thing, competently, and with purpose, is vital. If you just have one, you still haven’t covered all aspects of trust.

In many ways, ‘brand trust’ is another measure of familiarity.  We are talking about something much deeper here, and much more integral to the actual culture and measurable success of a company. With that in mind, a company must:

  • Do things right
  • Do the right thing
  • Be proactive.

We may think of these as competence and goodwill, adding proactivity in the whirlwind of current technology. 

You also talk about many company practices being ‘untrustable’. What would be an example of a brand fostering trust?

I’ll take an example of how one of the smaller US banks, Navy Federal Credit Union, is doing extraordinary things in the US against the bigger banks.

One initiative came after our present US administration and President decided to shut down the US Government to punish the Democrats. This had a profound effect on millions of people. With the threat of a prolonged shutdown looming, Navy Federal Credit Union sent out communications to all customers working for the government saying ‘we have you covered’. The bank knew which customers had jobs in government, and also knew their billing and costs, and proactively approved loans at very low rates based on those insights. It just made it happen. So if the shutdown lasted X long, customers were told their loan rates would be Y. If the shutdown lasted longer, they could access alternative rates.

All these customers could sleep, and knew they weren’t going to get gouged for anything. The bank had their back. I don’t know about you, but as a customer, when I think about getting a car loan later, I’m going to go back to these guys. That’s the kind of trustworthy practice we are going to see more of.

What’s more, it used to be the big fish would eat the little fish. Now, we’re seeing smaller financial services players beat out the larger guys because they have more information about you and they’re using it. And they’re using it to help you in such a way you want to see their companies succeed.

With your example, it’s clear a brand needs customer data to identify the right people, an ear to the ground in terms of market conditions, teams across the business working together, and responsiveness in execution.

But over all of that, you need a management philosophy and a culture throughout the company that says we have a lot of customers affected by this. We could just do what the big banks do, which is wait until there is a problem and people need a loan. Or we could help these guys out because they’re our customers and are the most important asset we have.

That fairness philosophy has to come first. Once you have that, it’s easier to work out what teams need to come together, the analytics, the communications and the ethics around using data you know about the customer, and so on.

Another interesting question is how to use all this customer data without freaking them out. The answer isn’t straightforward, but it’s simple. And that is, brands make it so you as a customer feel good giving them your information. If, as a customer, I know for certain you’re not going to hurt me, take advantage of me or surprise me, I’ll feel better about giving over my information.

Most industry research highlights a stark difference between the customer experiences brands think they're delivering, versus what consumers think they deliver. What's contributing to this discrepancy?

It’s been said we measure ourselves by our intentions, and measure others by their actions. Brands are genuinely trying to deliver great experiences and spend lots of budget and effort on that. But customers only see what affects each of them, individually, and not what the company hopes for. There’s a big difference between a company hoping for better sales, and instead, delivering genuinely outstanding customer experience.

What measurements of success can help keep the organisation on the right track?

There are three components of trust that must be measured: Do things right, do the right thing, and be proactive about it. For each of these elements, measurement will take some combination of customer perception, employee perception and key performance indicators (KPIs). 

In a world of trust-driven experience, what then is the role of the modern marketer?

When people talk about marketing, they usually mean advertising and creative. There’s a lot more to it. I think everyone in the whole company is in marketing now. Any company that sends customers over to a ‘marketing department’ without further thought is just destined to not be trustable and to have poorer customer experience and lower-valued customers.

In this new world, marketers should become chief customer value officers. Because every dollar our companies are worth comes from the customers we have today and will have tomorrow. Since that’s the case, understanding how much they’re worth now, how much they’ll be worth in the future, how to get there, how to increase their value and keep them, becomes so important, it’s really every person in the company’s role.

Getting those CMOs at the head of the table, not just in the boardroom, is key. But we’ll probably have to rename them.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu    

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