How to quickly restore the trust of a customer

We often hear that it takes time to build customer trust and that it may be challenged in a very short time. But no company is immune to a major problem which can have far-reaching consequences for its customers.

Which reaction to have in case of a major problem?

A few years ago, one of our clients, a provider in strategic parts for aeronautics, experienced a failure on one of its production machines, preventing it from delivering to its most important customer and thus blocking its production line. He was able to have the right instincts by:

  • Informing without delay all relevant contact persons of the customer, by being clear on the fact that it was not possible to commit on a restarting of the production line, in the case of a single production unit with a serious failure.
  • Listening to the customer about the impacts on him from this stoppage of delivery, on the short and medium term.
  • Looking for sourcing solutions “elsewhere”, by getting in touch with some competitors.
  • Communicating on the action plan for the restarting of the production and on its current status ; information being available on a dedicated website with a webcam showing the operations in the factory.
  • Not communicating on a restarting date as long as the company was not absolutely sure to be able to meet its commitment.

The customer even offered the assistance of his team with industrial methods to support his supplier in the resolution of this major difficulty.

Subsequently, the customer, who had particularly appreciated the way his supplier had handled this crisis, increased its volumes to allow the supplier to invest in a second machine.

How to act if the company has failed to manage the crisis in the heat of the moment?

Some companies wait too long before informing their customers about a risk. In the event of a problem, their first instinct will be to try resolving it without informing the customer, hoping for the latter to never find out. But if they are unable to do so, they are forced to communicate “at the last minute”, often putting their customer in a delicate situation: they no longer have the possibility to prepare accordingly, they simply have to put up with the situation.  In that case, reactions from customers are bound to be intense!

When a company finds itself in this situation, it must demonstrate an extreme sense of humility and acknowledge that it made a mistake by not informing its customers of the risk for them. This acknowledgement will allow them to take the necessary measures we previously talked about. In the short-run, the only concern of the company should be to minimise impacts on its customers, even though it could have minimised those impacts by anticipating these challenges.


What to do if, despite the efforts made by the company, the customer still does not have trust in it?

It is a relatively common case. Let’s take an example that we had a few years ago. A service company for communities was unable to bring back a quality relationship with its biggest customer, despite substantial efforts over several years. Communication with the customer was difficult, the customer had a tendency to see problems rather that recognise the efforts made, the employees of the company, very stressed, concluded that, anyhow, it was pointless to make efforts when facing an incompetent and insufferable customer.

We went to see different customer representatives to understand their attitude. The image they had of this company was negative indeed: a untrustworthy supplier, who acts according to its own interests, who refuses to take responsibility. When looking deeper into it with them, we realised that this feeling dated back from an event that had happened 10 years ago: the supplier had used the customer facilities, without telling the latter, for the account of another customer. The supplier never wanted to admit it.

Once the reason was pointed out, the supplier officially admitted the fact, admitted it had been a mistake and offered to compensate his customer accordingly. This changed radically, and almost from one day to the next, the nature of the relationship between the supplier and his customer. The latter even declined the compensation, the most important thing for him was to finally encounter a supplier that acknowledges his mistakes.

Since then, the supplier won several new highly remunerative contracts for which he would not even have been contacted before.

An error that is not recognised by the company can be a great hindrance to building a relationship of trust.