In business, trust and success are inseparable
By John Kariuki
Last week, a section of the media reported that some Kenyans, Ugandans and Tanzanians have been conned by Japanese fraudsters in car export deals.
The fraudsters had reportedly claimed that they would ship sleek cars to them. All that the victims were required to do was to wire some money and voila!
But these people are still waiting, months after sending the money and past the date that the ship carrying them would have docked at Mombasa!
By preying on the trust of their unsuspecting clients, the Japanese fraudsters have committed a business sacrilege.
They have abused a time-honoured rule in business — Trust.
Trust is vital even for basic things like employment contracts and informal commercial transactions that are not enforceable by law.
But beyond these every day engagements, trust also plays a major role in all aspects of business. It is one of the chief factors that determine the success of a firm, whether small or large.
Faith in a firm and its products come from a good relationship between a business and its customers.
There must be willingness on the business owner’s part to create joint goals with his or her customers for loyalty to flourish.
Building customer confidence in one’s products and services is a long-term undertaking and not a short-term transactional focus.
Focusing on good relationships nurtures transactions, but focusing solely on the volume of transactions, and hence profits, chokes off relationships and kills trust. The most profitable relationship for buyers and sellers is where a multifaceted approach is employed to each transaction beyond the ordinary haggling.
From financial institutions, which make an allowance for overpay instead of underpaying their customers, to the neighbourhood mama mboga who lends vegetables to people she only has a nodding acquaintance, everywhere is trust building.
Ms Lydia Manga, a restaurant operator in Embu says that she fosters customers’ trust by never interfering in their choice of waitresses to serve them.
"At first, I would read mischief when customers demanded to be served by specific waitresses, but with time I saw the business sense in it," she says.
She is aware that her customers come to unwind after work by taking drinks at her joint. To enhance their trust in her establishment, Ms Manga never intrudes in their personal space, especially those who want to be left alone.
"Building customer confidence is as personal as the customers come," says Manga.
When a customer asks for a particular song to be played, she goes out of my way to procure the CD just to make him or her satisfied. And to cement her bond with her clients, Manga has sworn her staff in observing an unwritten rule that operates in the leisure industry. "Nobody hears, sees or talks any evil about our clients and I am the only spokesperson of the establishment should anybody come seeking information," she says.
David Kiarie, a matatu driver who operates the Nyahururu-Nairobi route is an early riser. He has come to form a select clientele of passengers whom he picks up as early as 3am especially on Monday morning.
"These are mostly civil servants and business people returning to work in Nairobi and going for their supplies respectively," he says.
Kiarie has built confidence in a small circle of passengers by simply being there on time. "Nothing kills passengers’ confidence as easily as a matatu operator who is late or erratic," he says.
"Some of my regular customers are so confident in me that they often defer their journeys if I send a stand-by driver on the days I am off duty," he adds.
Juma Bakari, a uniforms dealer in Nakuru often gives hefty discounts to clients as a way of boosting their confidence.
"There are situations when customers come from far on the recommendations of other satisfied customers and may not have sufficient funds," he says.
Typically, such customers come to town intending to buy as many of his clothes as possible but prices will have changed from when they heard of his shop and the day of their actual visit. But he listens to their cases and gives them offers on their merit, he adds.
"All such people have always come back with more customers and this is the essence of business," he says.
According to James Kung’u, a certified public accountant and lecturer at Nyandarua Institute of Science and Technology, honesty is crucial in creating trust in business.
"The quickest way for a business to lose trust is through its perceived dishonesty," he says. One can avoid such an eventuality by being clear and open in all business communication," he adds.
"A business operator should be candid about pricing policies regarding returns and penalties when cancelling orders and other issues that are likely to raise questions," says Kung’u.
He advises businesses, both big and small to steer clear of concealing extra charges in the fine print if they wish to retain their customers’ confidence.
Kung’u adds that consistency can make or break trust in businesses.
"If a business gives discounts or happy hours to customers on certain days, then this must be consistent," he says.
Similarly, if it’s a one-off offer, clients should be clear about it or one may risk offending them, he adds.
"Be your word and people, including yourself, will trust you," he says.
He warns that business owners whose actions are not in tandem with what they say often don’t go far.
When business is transacted via email or phone, business owners who give out their names are more likely to build trust as this is seen as a sign of accountability.
"Even with the current technological advancement, customers still prefer to deal with real people rather than impersonal answering machines," he says.
Gaining customers’ trust often means giving them a strong guarantee for one’s products and services.
"If a customer is hesitant about whether or not to buy, a guarantee can help boost his or her confidence in the product," says Kung’u.
However, this may end up costing a business more, he adds. "But earning the trust of one loyal customer pays in the long run," he says.
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