5 Habits that Build Credibility
for Your Business
As you launch or start a business, you can build no greater competitive advantage than establishing a reputation for credibility and then protecting it.
We live in a time when suspicion and wariness are rampant. Scam artists abound. Polls indicate that trust in institutions, corporations, and government is at all-time lows. It's hardly surprising, then, that we've learned to be extremely cautious — perhaps even leery — when dealing with people and organizations that we don't know well.
The Plague of Misinformation
Making matters worse is the ease with which today's technology allows people to purposefully broadcast misinformation. This is particularly problematic on the internet.
Ideally the great democracy of the web should allow us to go online and find honest, unbiased reviews of products, services, or vendors, based on comments volunteered by everyday users. Indeed, the web once held out this very promise. Reality, unfortunately, has taken a different course.
Too many businesses have given in to the temptation to game the system. Many use surrogates pretending to be real customers, who write glowing reviews of the company and its products. The surrogates then post these reviews widely on social media and in prominent forums.
Unscrupulous businesses also employ surrogates in a more nefarious manner. Passing themselves off again as actual customers, the surrogates post unflattering comments and derogatory reviews aimed at discrediting a competitor.
There is actually a cottage industry now that carries out such shenanigans for a fee. And the industry has many offshoots. One off-shoot allows celebrities and public figures to buy thousands of "followers" on Twitter to inflate the appearance of their popularity. More recently Facebook has fallen victim to a similar scheme, in which shady programmers provide thousands of Likes for a Facebook page, again for a fee.
Where Can You Put Your Trust?
Such widespread misrepresentation puts the integrity of the web at stake. Recently my wife and I were considering a sizable business venture with a particular firm. We decided to check the company out online.
We went to Google and typed in the name of the company, followed by the word "reviews." After checking out three pages of Google results, we looked at each other and confessed that we had no idea what to believe.
There were plenty of reviews, pro and con. Several of the adverse reviews insisted that the company was widely known as unethical and that it had scammed lots of people. Yet the reviewers never offered a single piece of data to substantiate such allegations. Other negative reviews, on close reading, revealed that they were written by people who did not even really know the company and its products.
On the other hand, the positive reviews were just as skewed in the opposite direction, at times sounding more like propaganda than honest analysis. Out of almost three dozen reviews, we found only two that seemed to be reasonably balanced. Needless to say, after reading so many questionable postings, we were hard-pressed to trust even the "balanced" ones.
Sadly, situations like this are increasingly common on the web. And in my judgment, matters are only destined to get worse. Truth be told, it's increasingly difficult to find the truth.
Building Credibility Proactively
This is why I started this article by saying that your greatest competitive advantage may well be your ability to be seen as credible and trustworthy. There are so many abuses of integrity today that people are eager to do business with someone whose word and character they can trust.
As part of every decision that you make as a business owner, as part of every endeavor that your business undertakes, you should ask yourself, "Will this add to our credibility? Or detract from it?" This single question will keep you on track in terms of keeping credibility in good repair.
In addition, here are some quick suggestions about other ways to protect and enhance your credibility.
1. Be responsive. Be timely in your reply to emails or in your follow-up to phone messages. Act quickly to address customer complaints or problems with a product. When you promise to get back to someone, get back to them sooner rather than later. The instantaneous communication capability of today's technology has greatly elevated the expectations of people in terms of what it means to be responsive. Violate this expectation and people will start thinking of you as unreliable and untrustworthy.
2. Avoid excuses. Ours is increasingly a "not-my-fault" society. When things don't go right, the last thing that people want to hear is a string of excuses. Conversely, with so many people prone to excuse-making, customers and clients take note when you step up, accept responsibility for something that goes wrong, and move quickly to make things right. Offer excuses and people will see you as covering up. Accept responsibility and people will see you as sincere and genuine.
3. Steer clear of exaggerated claims in your marketing. You never want to come across as a huckster. Hucksters are everywhere, especially on the internet and late night TV. In general people treat them with disdain. At best they are treated as a joke. In neither case do they have credibility. If the language of your advertising and marketing sounds like something a huckster would say, tone it down. Otherwise you're needkessly putting your reputation and credibility on the line.
4. Be a good listener. Nothing discredits you more quickly than for people to conclude that you don't listen to them. At the same time, few things give you greater credibility in people's eyes than genuinely seeking their viewpoint. Ask customers and clients for feedback. Then listen. When customers offer complaints, avoid excuses. And never be dismissive. Listen. Disappointed customers want to be heard, first and foremost. Even if you can't make things right, you can at least listen. And a reputation for genuinely listening will go a long way in keeping your credibility in good repair.
5. Consistently exceed what you promise. You've heard the adage, "Under promise and over deliver." It's sound advice. If you promise to have a product ready in six days, see if you can make it in five. If you promise to have a proposal ready in three days, have it ready in two. Whatever your product or service, look for ways to put a little something extra into what your customers receive. Always leave them saying, "Wow! That's more than I expected!." Our world abounds with vendors and suppliers who miss deadlines or deliver shoddy products. The more you stand in sharp contrast to them, the more fully you establish your credibility.
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on January 9, 2014.