How to Win Customers’ Trust Without Spending a Dime

by Colin Shaw on March 30, 2016

It’s an old adage but it’s true: people like to do business with those they know, like and trust.

Businesses spend a lot of money and energy chasing that trust through marketing campaigns and slogans. Insurer State Farm advertises that it’s “like a good neighbor,” while one of my local car dealerships runs newspaper ads that say “doing business with integrity for over 59 years!”

But research – and our own experience with customer mirrors – shows that one of the most effective ways to build trust is far simpler and doesn’t cost a thing. What is this mysterious technique?

A genuine smile.

A team of researchers investigated whether a true smile promotes trust better than a forced one. We all instinctively know the difference. A true smile lights up the entire face. A forced smile can look like it’s been pasted on: the mouth is smiling, but the rest of the face doesn’t follow along.

The researchers set up a trust game, where half of the study’s participants recorded short videos asking another participant to trust them and send them money. They used identical scripts, but the stakes were higher for some participants than others.

The ‘senders’ viewed the videos and decided whether to send money, and how much. The participants who recorded the videos then had the option of returning some of the money to the senders.

The researchers found that the senders were more likely to trust and send money to a participant with a genuine smile, as opposed to a forced, or ‘social’ smile. The participants were more likely to have genuine smiles if the stakes were higher for them, and those with genuine smiles were also more likely to return more money to the senders.

The researchers used a commercial facial analysis tool to distinguish “social smiles” made by turning up the corners of the mouth, and “genuine smiles” that engage a wider range of facial muscles. They found that in addition to making a subject appear more trustworthy, a genuine smile made the subjects seem more attractive and intelligent.

These results are consistent with what we have learned in conductingcustomer mirrors. When our consultants stand in the place of customers, they carefully evaluate the subconscious and emotional elements of the customers’ experience as well as the rational and practical ones. And it turns out that subconscious elements like the quality of a smile can have a dramatic effect on a customer’s experience.

Think about customer service representatives who smile at you while telling you they can’t help you with your problem. Do you believe them? Probably not.

Here’s another example of how the quality of a smile can affect customer experience. Awhile back, a friend of mine, spent some time visiting an elderly relative in a rehabilitation facility. The staff smiled at them and took care of their relative’s needs, but their overall body language made them think that they were overworked and unhappy. In contrast, the physical therapy staff were always upbeat and energetic and seemed to truly enjoy their work and the patients. My friend found herself  liking and trusting the therapists but questioning the quality of care elsewhere.

In a retail or customer service setting, there may be several keys to creating those genuine smiles. One is to recruit employees who have passion and enthusiasm for the job. Another is to provide training in how to project a genuine smile – perhaps by visualizing pleasant or funny things while interacting with customers. A third, backed by the research, is to raise the stakes for employees, giving them incentives to improve their customer interactions.

Can you tell a genuine smile from a forced one? Does it affect your buying decisions?

To make your Customers and employees smile more improve your Customer Experience by signing up for our Certified Foundation CEM Training starting on April 8th.

LinkedIn followers get a special $225 discount by using LinkedIn225 code when making payment.

If you enjoyed this post you may want to read:

Command Customers’ Attention: The Secrets Uncovered

Customers Emotions Are Predictable

3 Things Great Companies Do For Their Customers

Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.

Follow Colin Shaw on Periscope & Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

Colin ShawHow to Win Customers’ Trust Without Spending a Dime