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Building Trust

Ilya Adler

Like many other authors, I have often commented about the "trust" issue in business. According to author Francis Fukuyama, "trust" is a human capital that determines the way society develops business. "Trust," according to Fukuyama, is the probability within a culture that two people who do not know each other are able to work ethically with each other. Stated in simpler terms, if you are to work with someone whom you have never met, do you expect him/her to be ethical with you, or are your first reactions suspicious? In the former case, you would be behaving with high trust, and in the latter as low trust.

Different cultures are described as high or low trust, or somewhere in between. Generally, the U.S. is described as "mixed" because trustworthy behavior is often backed by a legal system, rather than by simple culture. Mexico, as is the case with Latin America in general, is considered very low trust.

Thus, in Mexico, having the trust of someone is often the most important attribute to determine with whom we do business and how we do business. And the cost of low trust is high. Buyers do not trust businesses, and businesses do not trust customers. For example, if in Mexico you make a claim to your bank that the ATM machine did not dispense you the correct amount of money, in most cases, the bank will let you know that if in their investigations they find that no money was missing, you will be charged a certain amount of fees or penalty. That is done because they do not trust their customers will play fair ball. And likewise, Mexicans are less likely to buy online or to give out credit card numbers, because they do not trust that it will be handled safely.

There is, of course, the issue of laws. Mexico, compared to the U.S., has a long way to go to protect consumers. For example, the basic class suit, so important as a way to protect consumers, does not exist in Mexico. If you have a small claim against a company, you are not likely to hire a lawyer and go through a painful judicial procedure to get back this small amount. Thus, the law itself encourages further unethical behaviors by companies, and this in turns generates or perpetuates mistrust by customers.

As everybody knows, building trust with your customers is one of those sacred laws of business marketing. So how does one go about building trust with your customers in Mexico? This is a crucial issue, in which cultural issues play a key factor in making this an easy proposition. In the U.S., building trust is often associated with fast service, which is also true for Mexico. But in Mexico, building trust is not an overnight proposition but rather a long-term process in which actions build trust among customers, and they in turn spread the word that your business is one that can be trusted.

You start by convincing yourself that your customers are worthy of your trust. There is little reason to believe that any group of people would day-in and day-out try to harm your business, if your business is providing a warm environment. To believe that Mexicans somehow cannot be trusted is both racist and wrong. In my many years of consulting with organizations in Mexico, I have found that Mexicans respond to trust with even more trust. If anything, the real issue of trust in Mexico comes from those who hold power, such as are big corporations, and not from individuals. They do respond in kind, of course, but if given a chance I will accept any wager that Mexican customers (or workers, for that matter) will become loyally connected forever.

The way to communicate that you trust is to accept, in most cases, what your customers are saying as basically valid. If a customer wants to be refunded, do so. If a customer wants personal attention, give it to him. Basically, treat the customer as you should any customer. True, almost no one is doing it but, like most other ideas that have worked, it is those who first do it that harvest the fruits of taking a risk that isn't that risky at all.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Ilya Adler © 2008
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