Blue couch sitting on top of tiled floor next to chandelier. A metaphor of trust explained as a four-legged chair.

Mar 12, 2024

Rebuild Trust, Retain Customers

Written by Mariateresa Romeo

Like any other type of relationship, business relationships can be jeopardized by mistakes, lack of attention, and omissions, as well as intentional or accidental damages caused by others, such as business partners, suppliers, and competitors.
As with any other relationship, business relies on trust. Whether you work with clients, customers, users, or patients, compromising their trust in you as a professional or an organization and in your ability to fulfill their needs can result in financial losses and put your reputation at risk.
A compromised trust doesn’t mean the end of the business relationship, but it does mean some work is needed to rebuild it.

How can we rebuild client trust and repair or maintain our business reputation when at risk?

Rebuilding trust is an intentional action that requires transparency.
The basic premise is that trust is not a casualty. Building or rebuilding trust requires willingness and a sense of responsibility. The old saying “time heals all wounds” doesn’t fully apply to business relationships. Letting the time go by and hoping things resolve themselves increases the likelihood that your clients will find their way and look elsewhere.
Also, acting as if nothing happened might generate more frustration and disappointment for the client.
Therefore, rebuilding trust starts with acknowledging the situation and communicating to the client that we want to make up for our mistakes, if applicable, and do whatever we can to show we value them.
Nevertheless, a simple “apology” is usually not enough. Concrete actions and new behaviors must follow our words.

The 4 Cs of trust: a practical approach to determine what is damaged and how to fix it.

I like to think of trust as a four-legged chair: when any of the legs get broken, or the four legs are not the same height, shape, and thickness, it becomes difficult to sit on, and we feel uncomfortable and insecure using it. Similarly, trust relies on caring, commitment, consistency, and competency. When any of those aspects fail, the trust is jeopardized, and we must focus on repairing it.

  • Caring means showing your clients they are important to you, not only because they pay you and support your business. When a customer, a client, or a patient feels unheard, not respected, or ignored, they will unlikely return to us. Beyond apologizing for the carelessness, we need to figure out how to make them feel they are more than a number on our income statement or an item on our agenda. It would help if we focused on getting to know them better, understanding their needs, tastes, and challenges, and bringing the conversation to a more personal level. Other concrete actions are devoting as much time as possible to fulfilling their needs and providing them with a personalized experience.
  • Commitment is about keeping our promises. If clients experience delays or poor quality in our products or services, the only thing to do is demonstrate we can deliver as and what we promised. In this case, more than ever, actions matter more than words. I recommend avoiding fixing a broken promise with other promises we cannot keep. Refrain from wasting valuable time providing excuses or explanations. Solve the situation by clearly communicating what we will do, how, and when, and act accordingly. 
  • Consistency is the quality of always behaving or performing in a similar way. It is why a patient visits the same physician for their annual check or a client always chooses the same accountant for their tax return. They know they will get the same level of quality, accuracy, and reliability they need. Clients who experience a lack of consistency in our performance begin to doubt our ability to provide what we promise. Out of the four aspects of trust, it is the most difficult to rebuild, as we need to create opportunities to demonstrate our ability to perform as expected or, even better, improve our performance over time. In this way, clients can reconsider the “single” event that made them doubt our capabilities in light of a long series of outstanding performances.
  • Competency is about demonstrating that we know what we are doing and are worthy of the money you ask for our products or services. We lose respect for a professional because they give us the wrong advice or don’t know how to solve our problems. While a breach in consistency has to do with our performance, a competency breach affects a client’s perception of who we are as a professional or as a company and, ultimately, our brand identity. In this case, clear communication is necessary. Before seeking the opportunity to prove that we can do better, we must admit our mistakes and offer to pay for the consequences if possible. Vulnerability is key in this type of situation. 

Identifying which aspect of trust has been compromised can help you understand how to rebuild it and where to start.

One of the most common mistakes is trying to fix one aspect of trust by enhancing another.

Did it ever happen to you that you abandoned one of your favorite restaurants because they changed the chef (i.e., consistency) and kept sending you messages for your birthday and emails with promotions and dedicated offers (i.e., caring)? I assume that was not enough to make you change your mind and return to that place as often as you did before.
To use the four-legged chair metaphor, strengthening another leg cannot compensate for the missing one.

In conclusion, building and rebuilding trust are skills that client-facing teams and professionals need to master to manage client relations and communication and support retention.


Learn how my executive coaching program and workplace effectiveness training can help you develop trust skills and behaviors.

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