EXECUTIVE LESSONS FROM MY AUTO REPAIR LADY: TRUST

Several years ago I went to an auto body shop recommended by my auto insurer to get a driver’s side mirror replaced.  The young lady who runs her family business was efficient and cheerful and gave me a reasonable estimate.  She drove me to and from my commuter rail station so I didn’t have to worry about cabbing it.  The shop finished the job quickly and expertly.

My wife’s car eventually needed some auto body repair work and she received the same treatment.  We learned that the shop also did regular auto repairs and decided to give the shop a try.  For both our cars, the auto body shop’s mechanical repairs were cheaper than our auto dealers.  In terms of our treatment, the shop was  consistently friendly, efficient, and reasonable in cost.    Now we don’t take our cars to be repaired anywhere else. My wife and I have watched the young lady get married, have two children, and continue to run the family business with the help of her husband and parents.

A Used Car?

The other day, while I was being driven home from the auto body shop, the young lady mentioned that her family business was now also selling pre-driven cars, i.e. used cars.  She told me that her criterion for selling a car was simply that she would only sell a car that she herself would buy.

Now I have never bought a used car and did not think I ever would in my life. When I have the need, I would buy a used car from this young lady.  Why is that? Trust!  I trust her and her business.  Over the years, by her consistent conduct and consistent service, she has earned my family’s business trust.  So much so, that I have altered my risk-averse policy of never buying a used car.  Our business relationship has evolved from body work to mechanical repairs and, now, to used car sales.  It reminds me of the old saw on ultimate trustworthiness: “Would you buy a used car from this guy?”

What Has Trust Got To
Do With It?

Executives, entrepreneurs and professionals are so focused on making “the sale” and delivering the good or service that they forget the  fundamental glue in a business transaction or business relationship is
establishing and maintaining trust.

Consumers trust Apple products because they know the products will be consistently fun, useful, high quality and cutting edge.  Diners trust McDonalds because they know the food and drink will be consistently cheap, filling, flavorful and served in a clean restaurant.  Coffee drinkers trust Starbucks because they can expect the baristas to know their preferences and they can linger as though they were in a European café.  These consumers know exactly what they are getting and they, in turn, become receptive to new product offerings of these companies, whether it be an iPad, a McRib sandwich, or instant coffee.  Do your customers or clients or patients know what they are getting?

Consistent good conduct and service create trust.  So, too, executives and professionals must put first and foremost their trustworthiness in the delivery of their goods and services and in their personal behavior.

Trust As A Soft Skill

I have always naturally focused on competence and reliability and I never consciously thought about the importance of the trust factor. When my clients keep coming  back to me for strategic career or corporate advice, even long after I have negotiated their employment contracts or severance packages or drafted their LLC operating agreements, I now understand it is because they trust me.

Without trust, an executive or a professional cannot do long-term business effectively.  We know trust when we feel it.

Are you trusted in business? Do your colleagues trust you?  Do your customers, clients or patients trust you? It is unfortunate that our grad schools and professional schools don’t teach a course on trust.  This soft trait/skill is our most important one.

6 responses

  1. This post is thought provoking to be sure. Two key points that come immediately to mind: (i) Being trustworthy is a fundamental skill of leadership, and; (ii) Trust is a two way street.

    Being able to establish trust with superiors and, equally as important, subordiates is what separates leaders from managers. Do-what-you-say-you-are-going-to-do (DWYSYGTD) is a code that we can fall back on to build and maintain trust with our colleagues and betters. Also, creating a safe environment that allows our subordinates to take risks leads to effective organizations and inspiring products.

    It is also important that, as leaders, we are trusted by and trust our customers, colleagues and direct reports. Once these relationships are bonded by trust, information can flow freely. Often it is the external information – not message in our own head (or from the yes men) – that we need to listen to.

    Truley an inspiring post G.A., thank you.

    • John,

      You made a keen observation that got me thinking: the idea that it is important for leaders to trust their customers, colleagues and direct reports, i.e., that it is a two way street. In order to gain trust, you must also give it. It reminds me of the newstand shop guy on the first floor of my building who tells his customers “pay me later” when they are short of change for a couple of candy bars. They always pay him and usually go to him rather than the cheaper Walgreens or CVS store down the street.

  2. Great post, G.A. Trust is a fundemental and invaluable asset not just in business but in the general operation of the universe. Without it, there can be undesired chaos.

    • Merilet,

      I am glad you pointed out the universal application of trustworthiness. Not to get too metaphysical here, but the lack of trust in life and business creates bad karma.

  3. Cory,

    I like your observation that consistency in meeting and exceeding expectations is critical to building trust with customers, bosses, employees and family members. I mentioned in my blog post that I had naturally focused on competence and reliability and had not thought consciously about trust. I was doing the right things, but did not understand their positive outcome: trustworthiness.Your explicit prescription for positive behavioral consistency in meeting and exceeding expectations is a great guide toward achieving trust.

    In a 29 August 2011 Wall Street Journal article on “Playing Favorites,” reporter Melissa Korn notes that managers acknowldege playing favorites influences their decision-making in granting promotions and that while checks and balances are utilized to be fair, like evaluating job-related skills and using multiple interviewers, managers also used “more subjective criteria, including trustworthiness and comfort working with an employee.”

    So while technical prowess may be a given required skill set, its delivery must be consistent in order to build trust. There are vendors and service providers who may not have warm and fuzzy personalities, but I trust them because of the consistency in their delivery of their products and services.

  4. One of the true nuggets of this blog piece is the word “consistency”. Consistency is the primary building block that leads to trust. Interestingly enough, the expectations established by the marketplace and the expectations that we establish for ourselves in the marketplace plays a critical role in determining the benchmark for valuing consistency and thus trust. When we say we trust, we are saying that we trust that certain expectations will consistently be met or exceeded. So is trust a skill? I would say that the true skill is ones ability to set meaningful expectations and consistently meet, or even better, exceed those expectations. Setting expectations takes understanding what your customers, bosses, employees and family members value the most, consistency is all about will power, discipline and focus and trust is simply the product of repetitiously executing expectation and consistency over time. In my life, I’ve built relationships, strengthened relationships and repaired relationships in business and in life, by simply evaluating trust through the lens of expectations and consistency.

    Great blog subject!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: