How many marbles are in your customers’ jar?

Brené Brown associated trust to a marble jar in her speech at Oprah’s Super Soul Session: 

“Trust is like a marble jar. You share hard stories and hard things that are happening to you with friends for whom overtime you filled up their marble jar.”

In other words, they’ve done thing after thing, after thing, to make you feel confident that you can give them your trust. For each thing they’ve done, you put a marble in their jar. The fuller the jar, the more trust you have in them.

In a similar way, trust from a customer in your business is built when time after time you’ve proven to them that they can, and that they should, trust you.

For each little thing that your business has done, your customer puts another marble in the trust jar. During a first transaction, if all goes well, people put a couple marbles in the jar, but they only fill the jar up after many other encounters that were marble worthy

Trust is not just a touchy feely concept. It's actually a vital component to a business. The more trust your customers have for your business, the more likely they are to become loyal customers, and to buy from you again and again, as common sense tells us and as research confirms. 

I like thinking of trust in terms of a marble jar, as Brené Brown did, because it reminds us that it’s little things that matter most to people and that it's through little things that we build up trust.

More on how you can build trust in a second, but first, let me share a story that demonstrates that it’s possible for all of us to use little gestures to build trust, and, more importantly, that a little gesture can have a huge impact on your business.

In “Talk like Ted”, Carmine Gallo shares an example of a family who stayed at a Ritz Carleton in Florida, and who realized they forgot their little boy’s stuffed animal, Joshi, at the hotel.

When they got home, they called the hotel staff, who found Joshi and gladly offered to mail it back.

The father also asked for a favor on the phone, “could you just take a picture of Joshi so that I can show it to my son?” He thought this would make his son feel better.

But the hotel staff did much more than that. They took several pictures of Joshi around the resort and wrote a note to the family saying “don’t worry about Joshi, he’s having a great time at the resort.”

Some of the pictures showed Joshi by the pool, getting a facial and taking a golf cart around the beach.

Here’s a picture of Joshi, relaxing while getting a facial.

This is a story of great customer service, which didn’t cost a thing but which got people to put a marble in the trust jar. Moreover, because it was unexpected (and funny), it got people to share it with others. Soon enough, this story went viral.

It feels good to know that nice and genuine gestures can help a brand reach so many other people. But these gestures require a little more than our genuine desire to make customers feel good.

When I read this story in Carmine’s book, the first two thoughts I had were 1) “wow” and more importantly, 2) “how did the staff act so quickly and without any fear that they are crossing any boundaries?”

As I found out shortly after, at Ritz Carleton, all employees are encouraged and trained to treat customers this way. Every department, every day, has a 15 minutes meeting, the sole purpose of which is to share moments of how they impressed, or “wow”-ed their customers.

So these little gestures stem from a mindset, intentionally cemented on people’s minds. This mindset is then cultivated into a practice, a habit that they’re so used to doing, they don’t question it anymore.

This is a lesson for all of us. If you’re looking to build trust with your customers, you have to make building trust a practice.

You have to do it with every chance you have, every single time you interact with customers. These little interactions make a big difference, as Ritz Carleton knows. They aren’t grandiose in their nature, but they have a lasting impact on people.

In her research, Brené Brown broke trust into seven components, most of which also help build trust between a business and its customers. You can use them as points of reference to not break trust, as well as opportunities to strengthen trust. 

Boundaries- to build trust, you have to respect people’s boundaries. Maybe this is why people have a hard time trusting companies that call or text their cell phone when they’ve never before come into contact with that company. How many times have you answered your cell phone, only to have an automated message on the other line?

Reliability- customers can only trust you if you do what you say you’re going to do, (almost) every single time. If you promise a good product or a good service, you have to reliably deliver that quality every time. If they know to expect good quality after a couple of purchases, and then later buy a product of poorer quality, trust will be questioned.

Accountability- I wrote “almost” every time above, because mistakes happen. But when you make a mistake not only should you own it, but you should also make amends. Think of mistakes not as failures, but as opportunities to build trust.

Earlier this year I received an email from a service business, personalized with my name, except my name appeared as Liz in my email, instead of my actual one, Mihaela. I, for one, would have never been offended by my name being mismatched in an email from a business.

But the owner of this business didn't take any risks, and in addition to owning this mistake, she also saw in it an opportunity to strengthen trust. Within hours, I received a sincere, personalized apology email: “Hi Miha, The email below was accidentally addressed to Liz.”

Vault - You have to hold in confidence what customers share with you. Never share or sell their data or their stories, without their permission.

Integrity - Practicing your values is the most important way to build integrity, and thus trust. If Zappos didn’t actually deliver good customer service, when delivering great service is their core value, then customers’ trust for them would be questioned.

Generosity. Be generous with them, before they are generous with you. If we want customers to give us their loyalty, we need to show our loyalty first.

If this idea seems counterintuitive, it’s because we’ve been conditioned to think this way. There’s an old mentality that says that a business should only reward customers when customers have already proven their loyalty to the business. Luckily, this mentality is starting to fade.

For example, customers have a stronger loyalty to Starwood than to Mariott, but Starwood’s rewards system is less advantageous for customers than Mariott’s: every $1000 spent at Marriott gives you $94 in rewards, versus just $61 at Starwood, according to research by Idea Works, which was quoted in the NY Times

However, like Ritz Carleton, Starwood builds loyalty and trust by personalizing customers’ experience with little things that make a big difference.

If you want to gain your customers' loyalty, you have to build trust with them. As elusive as this term sounds, it’s not difficult to achieve if it’s built into your overall strategy and your daily practice of running your business.

Maybe it would help to ask ourselves this question every time we have to make a decision: “is this a marble worthy moment?”

Mihaela Akers