The Role of Trust in the Marketing of Services

In all divisions of marketing, the role of trust is essential in business. Whether a customer chooses to purchase whatever people are providing relies heavily on the trust that employees will deliver that product or service efficiently and meet all potential needs of that customer. This is especially true in the marketing of services. Trust starts with a consumer and business relationship which relies on various things. Consumer trust is built when a service meets and exceeds their expectations and needs. Exceeding service expectations, having a competitive advantage over competition, shortening the customer gap between expectations and perceptions, applying relationship marketing, and establishing trust early on are all examples of strategies that can build this trust between a business and its customers. However, a business isn’t limited to just these approaches.

A good way to establish trust is to build trust before ever meeting the customer. Customers tend to decide whether they want a service or not before they even go to purchase the service. This is because most customers do their own research on a service before trying purchase the service. A study done by Rapidan Inbound (2015) stated that the average consumer does 57% of their research on a service or product before considering buying it. Beverige (2015) concluded that a business can build trust through sharing customer testimonials of their positive experience, sharing third-party partnerships and endorsements so they identify their reputation and reliability, and displaying the businesses privacy policy.

If businesses are having trouble building trust, they should take time to sit down with their entire staff and communicate on what they as a company are doing wrong. According to American Express, “Look at your business [and] write down the top seven (or more) reasons why prospects don’t buy from you. Whether it’s a perceived lack of quality, service, technology, offerings, pricing flexibility, etc., write down each one from your prospects’ perspective” (Sheridan, 2018). After identifying what a business may be doing wrong, compare this to the competitors. People should put their self in a customer’s shoes, and decide if they would buy from the competition. If the answer is yes, look at the way they are appealing to customers and then construct your own strategy (Sheridan, 2018). “…review the logic behind them and ask yourself how many of these your company has truly addressed well on its website and in its sales messaging…I can tell you how many of those issues the average business actually addresses: one out of seven” (Sheridan, 2018).

Once they evaluate their marketing weaknesses and competitors, they can start to fix their strategy to find the best one that works for their business. “You just need to be brutally honest and give buyers the information they truly care about. Address the hard stuff to turn your perceived weaknesses into strengths, and you’ll enhance trust in your brand” (Sheridan, 2018). Sheridan states how a business shouldn’t beat around the bush with employees. Be honest and listen to their needs, the consumer/employee relationship will strengthen over time.

There is a nature of risk involved with consumer trust. Coulter (2002) states when first meeting with a customer there is going to be risk involved because customers sometimes don’t know what to expect and due to the intangibility of the service. This risk can be reduced as consumers start to understand the service through repeated interaction with suppliers. “However, at the same time risk is reduced due to increased familiarity, risk is also increased because of the switching costs incurred because of long‐term service relationships” (Coulter, 2002).

Customers can also experience this risk from service providers. Coulter (2002) identifies switching costs as a risk for customers because service providers can raise prices while keeping existing business due to businesses having more control. “The greater the power of service suppliers, the greater the likelihood that they [can] dictate the terms of the service relationship, and hence (from the customer’s perspective) the greater the risk associated with establishing long‐term relationships” (Coulter, 2002). Additionally, the way trust is established is always changing between consumer and service provider due to the nature of risk changing. “Because the need for trust arises in any risky situation, and because the nature of risk is expected to vary over time, we expect that the manner in which trust is established (i.e. the antecedents of trust) will also vary over time” (Coulter, 2002).

Leonard L. Berry from Harvard Business Review states how businesses can gain and ultimately keep trust. Berry (2017) says firstly, a business and its employees should resolve service failures before customers are able to recognize them. Acting before the customer is aware of a problem will make them not know that it ever even took place. In addition, businesses should adhere to the promise they make to meet customer’s needs. “To the customer, a purchased service is a promise of performance” (Berry, 2017). Berry gives an example about airlines. Passengers do not have to and are not expected to know all terms and conditions in an agreement when they sign over their luggage to be stored. It is already established in the consumers mind that their luggage will arrive safely.

Another way to gain and keep trust is by being generous to customers when being faced with a service failure. Give customers a reason to still have trust that is fair to them and the business. “…stinginess is a trust breaker” (Berry, 2017). Include a justification for the service failure. Berry (2017) states If a business offers an apology to consumers but they feel as if the apology wasn’t genuine, they aren’t going to come back. He says to make an honest apology, be direct and address the problem with statements that seem like one understands how the customers are feeling.

A major part in attaining consumer relationships depends on the employee performing the service. Since services are intangible goods and performed by humans, they provide a different experience from one another that can’t be replicated. “Unlike products, each service is unique and the employees delivering the service frequently are the service in the customer’s eyes, and people may differ in their performance from day to day or even hour to hour” (Zeithaml, Parasuraman, & Berry, 1985, p. 45). Another component is a customer’s goodwill. An employee needs to have some strong recovery strategies if a service is given that doesn’t meet a consumer’s needs. “For example, although a bad haircut cannot be returned, the hairdresser can and should have strategies for recovering the customer’s goodwill if and when such a problem occurs” (Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler, 2013, p. 23). In this instance, an employee should offer the customer, not only a refund but other perks like free services on their next visit, discounts on purchases, etc.

The service recovery paradox is something that can happen when businesses experience a service failure. According to Zeithaml (2013), sometimes there will be consumers who are not happy with their service encounter, but then the business exceeds their expectations on the next service. “Occasionally some businesses have customers who are initially dissatisfied with a service experience and then experience a high level of excellent service recovery, seemingly leading them to be even more satisfied and more likely to repurchase than if no problem had occurred at all” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 184). Trust is still built because a customer sees that the business acknowledged the dissatisfaction and has taken measures to fix the issue. “Consider a rental car customer who arrives to check in and finds that no automobile is available of the size reserved and the price quoted…to recover, the car rental agent immediately upgrades this customer to a much better vehicle at the original price” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 184).

To increase customer expectations and perceptions, a business needs to shorten the customer gap. The customer gap “is the difference between customer expectations and perceptions. Customer expectations are standards or reference points that customers bring into the service experience, whereas customer perceptions are subjective assessments of actual service experiences” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 35). This is a part of building consumer trust because when businesses increase a customer’s perception through quality service, their expectations are also increased and they trust that the next time they get that service it will exceed their expectations. An example of the customer gap is when people visit an upscale restaurant. There is a customer expectation that one will receive a high level of service if they go to an expensive restaurant. “Closing the gap between what customers expect and what they perceive is critical to delivering quality service” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 35).

Perceptions reflect connections between employees and consumers. In an article by Rafael Becerril-Arreola, he states how this connection relates to trust and perception. “By strengthening consumers’ personal connections, satisfying interactions improve consumers’ perceptions of and loyalty to the service provider. Moreover, consumers attribute satisfying interactions with the service provider’s staff to the management of the service provider, giving it credit for the superior relational service” (Becerril-Arreola, Zhou, Srinivasan, & Seldin, 2017).

Relationship marketing is more about the customer/employee relationship than a product/service focus. “Relationship marketing is a philosophy of doing business, a strategic orientation, that focuses on keeping and improving relationships with current customers rather than on acquiring new customers” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 147). Employees gain trust when the customer feels they are personally treated. By businesses working on strengthening existing relationships, they are showing the customer that they are the priority—above acquiring new customers.

 According to Coulter (2002):

Research has documented that service relationships evolve during a specific service encounter as well as over time as customers get to know their service providers” (Coulter, 2002). Customers “getting to know” their service providers simply means having a better understanding of, and experience with, the provider. “Getting to know a service representative implies acquiring information. The more encounters one has with his/her service representative, the more information is accumulated about that service rep, and the more knowledge is gained about a particular service industry” (Coulter, 2002).

Similarities between service employees and customers also build relationships. How he/she dresses, acts, and lives their life are all examples of similarities that can occur between each party as identified by Coulter (2002). “We expect that perceived similarity between customer and service representative (i.e. in terms of lifestyle, social class, education level, etc.) will contribute toward this feeling of confidence” (Coulter, 2002). In addition, when consumers identify these similarities, they feel comfort and like the employee can identify and relate to their needs. “…identification reduces interpersonal barriers, raises comfort levels, and contributes toward the establishment of trust. Research confirms that salespeople or service representatives who are perceived as being [comparable] to their customers are more influential in changing attitudes and opinions than dissimilar representatives” (Coulter, 2002).

“Once service relationships have been established, the customers need to make inferences regarding a service provider based on cues such as similarity, empathy, or politeness. At this point, it is up to the service provider to deliver in a way that distinguishes him/her from others” (Coulter, 2002). When providers can meet the customer’s needs more efficiently, they are building trust. Delivering services in the most dependable way, while also providing quick service is most important, according to Coulter (2002).  “…it is not personal attention, but a demonstration of commitment and resources to the customer’s individual needs that should be stressed in the latter stages of a service relationship” (Coulter, 2002).

“The Role of Customers in Marketing” (n.d.) identifies various influences on a consumer’s decisions. Situational factors, personal factors, psychological factors, and social factors all influence customer decision making. As stated from an article by lumen learning:

Situational factors pertain to the consumer’s level of involvement in a buying task and the               market offerings that are available. Personal Factors are individual characteristics of consumers—traits such as age, life stage, economic situation, lifestyle, and personality. Psychological Factors relate to the consumer’s motivation, learning, socialization, attitudes, and beliefs. Social Factors pertain to the influence of culture/subculture, social class, family, and reference groups. As marketers gain a better understanding of these influencing factors, they can draw more accurate conclusions about consumer behavior.

(“The Role of Customers in Marketing”, n.d.)

When businesses try to gain or already have gained trust, consumers can turn to competitors. If customers can perform the service themselves, they may realize that they no longer need the service supplier at all; this is especially true with self-service customers (Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler, 2013, p. 23). “…customers in a sense are competitors of the companies that supply the service. Whether to produce a service for themselves (internal exchange)—for example, child care, home maintenance, or car repair—or have someone else provide the service for them is a common dilemma for consumers” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 356).

According to Eisingerich & Bell (2008), when a customer increases knowledge on a service, the chance of stronger customer loyalty in the long run also increases. “Many view customer education as a valuable augmentation to the service process through which firms may increase perceived value and ultimately achieve deeper, more trusting relationships with their customers” (Eisingerich & Bell, 2008). However, in terms of professional services, there are some uncertainties with customers. They begin to doubt the quality and reliability of services. Still, it seems educating customers provides potential for more advantages than disadvantages according to past research stated by Eisingerich & Bell (2008). “A firm’s efforts in providing customers with critical information and explaining important service concepts to them can reduce this uncertainty. Past research acknowledges the potential advantages of customer education for organizations” (Eisingerich & Bell, 2008).

Customers play a role in service co-creation and delivery. Consumers really are the ones in charge when it comes down to it. If businesses suddenly lose their customers, it is going to be a big setback. It is arguable that consumers, at times, can have more control than the service providers. According to Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler (2013), customer participation at some level is inevitable in all service situations. “Because they participate, customers are indispensable to the production process of service organizations, and in many situations, they can control or contribute significantly to their own dis/satisfaction” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 23).

Trust plays a big part in maintaining customer retention (Hill, 2013, p. 268). It costs way more money to hire a brand-new customer than to keep an existing customer, which is why the consumer/service provider relationship must remain solid. “…researchers and consulting firms have in the past 20 years documented and quantified the financial impact of existing customers. Customer defection is costly to companies because new customers must replace lost customers, and replacement comes at a high cost” (Zeithaml et al., 2013, p. 476).

Time is key to developing this trust and is also why the big service companies stated above have consumers locked in for life. Businesses can’t build these personal relationships with their clients overnight. Trust is a process that takes years, if not decades, to build; and when it comes to some of the major corporations, it has taken them centuries.

It all comes down to creating a personalized relationship between businesses and consumers. By creating this relationship, businesses gain credibility and credibility creates opportunity. With no real disadvantages, it is an entity’s main marketing concern. When trust is created, consumers are then likely to become a backer of the service. A consumer enjoys a product and then tells their friend who tells their friend. Trust creates this ongoing cycle of demand. It’s the reason big service corporations are so successful. How can we get product to sell? How can we get customers interested in this service? These are questions managers and employees have and it’s the businesses that are observant of consumers interests that will have the answers.

The role of trust in the marketing of services is a very big one. Businesses rely on customers and trust is what keeps them coming back. By establishing trust in an early age, identifying what employees could be doing wrong, and understanding consumer perceptions, trust can be gained, which is the goal for every business. A study shown by George & Barksdale (1974) revealed that marketing activity is diffused more in service firms than any other, which further ensures the point that special approaches must be used when dealing with intangible services. The scope is wider, the competition is vicious, and the ultimate decisions always come down to the consumer. In conclusion, businesses must prioritize every aspect of their services to accommodate the consumer if they truly want to be successful in the marketing of services.

References

Becerril-Arreola, R., Zhou, C., Srinivasan, R., & Seldin, D. (2017). Service Satisfaction–Market Share Relationships in Partnered Hybrid Offerings. Journal of Marketing81(5), 86–103. Retrieved from https://zeus.tarleton.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.zeus.tarleton.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=125210208&site=eds-live

Berry, L. L. (2017, April 19). How Service Companies Can Earn Customer Trust and Keep It. Retrieved September 25th, 2018, from https://hbr.org/2017/04/how-service-companies-can-earn-customer-trust-and-keep-it

Beverige, J. (2015, July 27). Trust – The Foundation of Your Professional Services Marketing Strategy. Retrieved October 2nd, 2018, from https://www.b2binboundmarketer.com/inbound-marketing-blog/trust-the-foundation-of-your-professional-services-marketing-strategy

Coulter, K. S., & Coulter, R. A. (2002). Determinants of trust in a service provider: The moderating role of length of relationship. Journal of Services Marketing, 16 (1), 35-50. doi:10.1108/08876040210419406

Eisingerich, A. B., & Bell, S. J. (2008). Perceived Service Quality and Customer Trust. Journal of Service Research,10(3), 256-268. doi:10.1177/1094670507310769

George, W. R., & Barksdale, H. C. (1974). Marketing Activities in the Service Industries. Journal of Marketing38(4), 65–70. Retrieved from https://zeus.tarleton.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.zeus.tarleton.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=4996487&site=eds-live

Hill, M. E. (2013). Marketing Strategy: The Thinking Involved. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Sheridan, M. (2018, January 31). Trust: The Competitive Advantage You May Be Overlooking. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/trust-competitive-advantage-may-overlooking/

The Role of Customers in Marketing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wmopen-introbusiness/chapter/the-role-of-customers-in-marketing/

Zeithaml, V. A., Bitner, M. J., & Gremler, D. D. (2013). Services Marketing: Integrating Customer Focus Across the Firm (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Zeithaml, V. A., Parasuraman, A., & Berry, L. L. (1985). Problems and Strategies in Services Marketing. Journal of Marketing49(2), 33–46. Retrieved from https://zeus.tarleton.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.zeus.tarleton.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=5001282&site=eds-live

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