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Marketing in the
"New Age of Skepticism"

How to Build Customer Trust
and Get New Business

by Barbara Brabec


A NEW READER ONCE SAID of my subscription newsletter, "You may be a hoax and you're really a grumpy gremlin raking in money in a cave—but your publication comes across as being written by a warm and caring person, so I shall picture you that way."

While that letter gave me a chuckle, it also reminded me that we were then living in what Direct Marketing Magazine (now out of print) called "The Age of Skepticism" or, "the age in which nobody believes anybody, in which claims of superiority are challenged just because they're claims, in which consumers express surprise when something they buy actually performs the way it was advertised to perform."

What's interesting about this quote is that it was made years before the Internet began to impact the daily lives of both business owners and consumers. Now, thanks to the Internet, we're living in what one might call the "New Age of Skepticism," because today it's not only consumers who have become skeptical, but business owners themselves. Many of my readers have written to me about their experiences with buyers in foreign countries who gave them a stolen credit card, or asked to pay with a money order that turned out to be counterfeit (see "Counterfeit Money Orders and Credit Cards That Seem Okay").

From the consumer point of view, we're also seeing a different kind of skepticism than what we saw ten or twenty years ago. Now many consumers are worried that they won't even receive the products they've ordered, let alone whether they will be as advertised. According to Consumer Fraud Reporting, Internet auction fraud is now one of the most reported offenses by consumers, and work-at-home scams, matrix, multi-level marketing. and pyramid schemes are also high on the list.

Professionalism is Key

Whether you’re selling a product or a service on the Web today, your website needs to look as professional as possible, have a good navigation system with no broken links, and include sales and descriptive copy that is not only grammatically correct, but clearly explains each or your products and services in a way that leaves no doubt as to what buyers will receive if they order from you.

You also need to guarantee satisfaction or money back. You can't just say it simply like that, however. Your guarantee must clearly disclose the terms, conditions, and extent of the guarantee, plus the manner in which you will perform the guarantee. FTC standards require not just a statement, such as "Satisfaction guaranteed or money back," but a detailed explanation, such as "If not completely satisfied with the merchandise, return it in good condition within ten days to receive a complete refund of the purchase price."

Other Ways to Make Buyers Trust You
and Buy From You

Here are some suggestions gleaned from discussions with various business owners in my network:

"Give the best service possible," says a website designer. "Since most service business rely on referrals and word-of-mouth advertising, this is absolutely essential for success."

"Serve your clients well, charge a fair fee for your services, and always be truthful," says a medical-legal consultant. "Truth and honesty are old-fashioned virtues that should (though often do not) apply to today's world."

"Provide the best service and on-time quality work at affordable prices. I truly listen to my customers and always give them a little extra on the job," says an artist and product designer. "Of course, it is important to point out what extra you have provided at no charge, both verbally or on the written invoice. It's often the little things that prompt word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business."

"Add a personal touch," says an accessories designer. "I still include a handwritten card with every purchase because I think folks miss the personal touch and this gesture is my way of fulfilling it."

You'll notice a common thread running through the above remarks, which is the importance of doing everything possible to get the good word-of-mouth advertising that is so critical to the success of any self-employed individual. You will always look good to your customers or clients if you are always sincere when promoting yourself, your products, or your services, and always give good service. Whenever possible, give your customers or clients something extra they’re not expecting. This could be something as simple as a follow-up email or phone call. In fact, a phone call would be an ideal way to ask if they would give you a little testimonial, which you will offer to write for them, of course, based on whatever kind things they have just said to you during the phone conversation. (Be sure to run the finished testimonial copy by them for their approval before using it in your promotional materials or on your website.)

Ultimately, the degree of success you achieve in business will have much to do with how credible you are perceived to be. In their book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, co-authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner offer this simple method for strengthening credibility: DWYSYWD—do what you say you will do.

"Credibility is mostly about consistency between words and deeds," they say. "People listen to the words and look at the deeds. Then they measure the congruence. A judgment of 'credible' is handed down when the two are consonant."

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