Use Your Edge: 4 Trust Factors That Attract Customers to Small Businesses

Most Americans – 71 percent – trust small businesses more than they trust their government, their preacher, their teacher, or the nightly news, according to a very dense report issued in April by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. 

small business owners, customer loyalty, entrepreneurs, trustThe report focused on mistrust of government from every angle: political persuasion, gender, age, government department ... for 142 pages ... but it didn't analyze why small business ranked so high in the trust department.

Well, Pew may not have thought it important but I do. Smart business owners can use that trust to brand themselves, to ensure customer loyalty, and to stay in business for the long haul.

It's all about your roots, the reasons you're in business in the first place.

1. Engagement: The owner's life and livelihood are tied up in the success of the business. Unlike the manager of a chain store or even a franchisee (although they come closer), the owner of a small business must make a success of the endeavor. As a customer, you know that you matter. That may be demonstrated by a friendly greeting or by remembering what brands your prefer.

It also means that the wise small business owner will listen to customers and employees who suggest changes or point out possibilities. The act of listening makes customers feel as if your store is their store, too. That's called "loyalty" and "referrals."

2. Passion: Akin to #1 but not quite the same. Small businesses open because someone has a passion about something – pets, bicycles, food, fashion. That translates into:

  • really knowing the products, their attributes and whether they'll work for you, the customer;
  • wanting customers to love those products just as much; 
  • passing that passion on to customers and to staff. 

How can you not enjoy shopping where those helping you wax eloquent about their stock? They'll point out the new stock that suits your figure and steer you away from the ones that will make you flinch in the fitting room. That's the kind of atmosphere that entices people to stop in to "browse," then indulge in impulse purchases.

3. Authority: When you have a problem at a small business – a bad product, the need for a donation to the Little League, or a wish to have a different product stocked – you deal with someone who has decision-making ability. You don't get the "It's company policy ..." or "You have to call our 800 number ... " or "Please fill out these forms ..." or any other run-around. Someone is there who can refund your money, authorize a donation to your raffle or place an order for something not normally stocked. What a relief! A bad experience becomes a good bond.

4. Community: Chances are, the owner of a small business will try to help out local organizations. It may be something as simple as the donation of a gift certificate to the PTA raffle or providing food for a nonprofit event. Why? Because the small business owner sees people every day. The target market is local and word gets around. If s/he lives in the community, customers may run into them at church or in the park or at their children's school. 

In short, it's all about people, about getting personal. At a small business you are a person dealing with another person. Can't get much more personal than that.

What do you think makes people trust small businesses?

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