Glenn Urban at MIT teaches us about the importance of the power of trust. Glenn observes, as have many others, that we have shifted from a mass-media, high promotion world (that effectively ended at the start of this decade) to one focused on relationships and two-way communications. In this new world, the single most important thing that matters is trust. (For more on this shift, check out Clay Shirkey’s TED@State talk, below)
Ironically, building trust is easier than it looks – be generous, act consistently, and make promises that you can and do keep. (The harder part is doing this within an organization that has thrived on another way of doing business for decades. But it’s important to remember that being trustworthy really isn’t difficult at all).
I’ve been playing with an out-of-production squash racquet for about three years now. Since squash is played in an indoor court with cement walls, the racquets break often, so it’s common to go through 1-2 racquets a year. Since my racquet model (a yellow-and-black Dunlop Hot Melt, if anyone knows where I can still dig one up) is out of production, I’m down to a single racquet, and I’ve no choice but to buy a new model – with a different feel that will play differently.
Squash is a niche sport in most places, including New York, and it’s hard to find stores that sell squash racquets, and harder still to find stores that demo racquets (let you pay to rent a racquet for a day or two before deciding which to buy).
A fellow player recommended Grand Central Racquet, and I went there this afternoon and met Tony, the store’s owner. Together, we picked two racquets for me to demo. I was a little rushed, hoping to catch a train, and was dreading the inevitable swiping of my credit card, preapproval of $300+ on my card (the value of the two racquets), maybe even making a copy of my drivers license…all the necessary evils of walking out of the store with a few hundred dollars worth of unpaid-for merchandise.
I’ve been trained so effectively by our trust-free world that I was beside myself when Tony took out a pad of paper, wrote down my name, my phone number, and the models of the two racquets I’m going to demo, and asked for $10 (cash was fine). No approvals, no verification, no nothing. “Enjoy them, and we’ll see you on Wednesday,” was all he said.
Why does this work for Tony? How does he know I’m not going to run off with the racquets? Did he make some sort of judgment call about me personally (I doubt it) or is this just how he runs his business?
The point is, he is taking a risk. But he’s decided that being generous and trusting of me in a way that never happens in the big city in the 21st century makes sense. And by giving me this gift, he’s taking someone who could be a lifelong customer – but who has the option of buying online for 20% less – and giving that person a reason to be loyal to him.
I’m sure the lawyers and the rule-makers and the people whose job it is to say ‘no’ would tell Tony that he’s crazy, and maybe he is. But if trust is all that really matters today, if success is about building communities of trust, and if trust can be established so quickly and easily, we all need to find ways to act a little more like Tony, and we’ll have to break some rules to get there.
Do you have any great trust-building stories you’d like to share?