Great Expectations: What Customers Really Want

Great Expectations: What Customers Really Want

Have you ever been disappointed that it did not live up to the hype?

This has happened to almost everyone at one time or another. From late-night infomercials that promise to deliver an amazing, revolutionary new product for the low low price of only $29.95 plus shipping and handling, to the hip new restaurant that turns out not to be worth all the buzz it’s been generating – we have all been let down when something we were excited about did not meet our expectations.

And when this happens, we’re very unlikely to come back and make another purchase. Why would we? We’ve been burned once. It’s clear that this business does not have our best interests in mind. All trust has been destroyed.

Customer Relationships Are Built On Trust

The most important factor in any relationship is trust; without it, no positive relationship can exist. This is true whether the relationship is between friends, family members, organizations, or businesses and their customers.

This is why any time a promise is made to a customer, it’s absolutely critical that the promise is fulfilled. Any time a customer feels like they have been misled or disappointed, it erodes trust.

There is a sort of formula for building strong relationships with customers, based on trust and bolstered by positive interactions and experiences. This “Trust Equation” was formulated by David Maister in his 2000 book The Trusted Advisor:

T = C + R + I


Where T= Trust, C= Credibility, R= Reliability, I= Intimacy, and S= Self-Orientation.

Let’s unpack that a little.

Credibility is your standing in the customer’s eyes when it comes to believing in you or your company. Do they take your expertise and advice seriously? Do they consider your organization and products to be reputable?

Reliability is the level of confidence that the customer has that you or your organization will deliver on promises. Can the customer depend on your word?

Intimacy is the level of rapport, understanding, and openness the customer experiences when dealing with you. A friendly salesperson and a company with good transparency can build a high level of intimacy.

Self-Orientation is the customer’s perception of how focused you or your company are on your own needs, rather than on theirs. Do they see you as being genuinely concerned with helping the customer, understanding and addressing their concerns – or are you just pushing products in order to make a profit?

Using the Trust Equation

You can actually use this equation to determine the “trust level” of an account. If you can rank your performance in the areas of Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Orientation on a scale of 1-5, and run the numbers, you can discover exactly how effective you are at building trust in the relationship.

First, estimate your own effectiveness in each area, using the ranking scale shown below:

For C, R, I: Scale A For S: Scale B
5 = Always effective4 = Usually effective

3 = Sometimes effective

2 = Usually ineffective

1 = Always ineffective

1 = Always effective2 = Usually effective

3 = Sometimes effective

4 = Usually ineffective

5 = Always ineffective

Then, at the earliest opportunity, ask the customer to provide for you an honest ranking of your performance, in order to validate your assessment.

This will also provide you the opportunity to identify any gaps in perception between your own assessment of your standing and what the customer is actually experiencing. This type of feedback can be extremely valuable, and can show you what areas are in need of attention.

Then follow the formula:

T = C + R + I


Add together your scores for Credibilty, Reliability, and Intimacy, and then divide the total by your score for Self-Orientation. This will yield your Trust Ranking.

Here are some approximate potential scores:

10-15 = You are generally effective at building both trust and customer loyalty.

6-9 = There are some things you need to work on to improve customer relationships.

1-5= You are probably losing customers! Rethink your approach – if you make improvements in your customer relationships, you will see more repeat business and a stronger bottom line.


Baker Communications offers leading edge customer service training solutions that will help you address the goals and achieve the outcomes addressed in this article. For more information about how your organization can achieve immediate and lasting behavior change that will uncover new opportunities, drive revenue, and boost your bottom line, click here.