Thursday, March 03, 2005

How to build trust among a cynical customer base (and how not to...)

Rob Hyndman has a good post in his blog about how simple things can do a lot to build trust. He received an e-mail from a hotel chain where he had stayed. They asked, in a one-time only e-mail, if he wanted to opt-in to receive any special offers by e-mail. A very simple thing, but Presto! Instant trust: Starwood Hotels and Privacy.

Companies can easily destroy trust by doing things that they think are "good for the customer." Case in point: I regularly travel to Ottawa. I reguarly stay at a particular hotel. One time, I had to go to Ottawa and my first choice was full. So I called a second hotel where I had stayed two years before and had pretty good service. When I called to make a reservation, I asked if they wanted a credit card to hold my room. "No thanks," said the reservation clerk, "we still have your card on file from the last time you stayed here." Two years ago. I immediately wondered where that had been stored? How did they know it was me and my card. There are at least 42 David Frasers listed in the Ontario phone books. Did every teenaged reservation clerk have access to my credit card for two years? Was it on he same computer that houses their online reservation system? I am not paranoid, but I now avoid that hotel.

One additional thing to highlight the quirkiness of customers: I am a member of the loyalty program for the hotel where I usually stay in Ottawa. They have my credit card number, know what size bed I like and that I prefer a view of Parliament Hill. Why did I give that info to them? Because they told me what they do with it and they promised to keep it safe. Is that 100% fool-proof? No, but I have never seen them treat my information casually. So I trust them.

Rob and I may be more privacy aware than most customers, but there is a growing minority of customers who notice things like this and it makes a difference. Companies need to cater to the "privacy demographic" as much as the 24-35 year olds.

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