Like many people, I want to work and partners with people I can trust. That trust is built on a shared understanding and and expectation of honest business dealings. In truth, honesty is easy when everything is going well and there are no challenges. The difficulty is being honest when it could make you look bad or could hurt you. At that point, people will lose some of their honesty and it changes the dynamic of a relationship. I have spent the last 15 years of my career in management and executive positions where we delivered services to customers. While I was honest in my dealings with people, I would not have been successful unless my team had the same approach. Focus on building a great and honest team and you are well on your way to success.
Be honest when you are right
By now, you've probably seen all the articles about how we should never lie to customers or potential partners. But in business, a lot of the “truth” that we should be able to tell is “something I don't think we can do." In that situation, customers appreciate an honest approach to your capabilities. If you don't think you can do it, be open about it and provide alternative solutions. If you can do it, keep your word and keep the other person from wasting their time on a partnership that will never get off the ground. No harm, no foul. Many relationships with businesses I've had don't make it past the first communication. I could tell that the other party did not respect honesty at the same level that I did. Always start your relationships off with honesty. As long as the foundation is honest and true, the relationship can build from there. If it is based on lies or half truths, then it is doomed to fail. As such, be honest and risk a business relationship not growing vs lying where the relationship will end before it begins.
Be honest when you make a mistake
When people come to you with a problem you, or your company, created, you can either tell them the truth and act accountable, or you can twist it around to suit your benefit and deny responsibility. You must be honest when you have made a mistake. Even the simplest of mistakes, like a price error or an order number, can turn into a business nightmare and result in serious legal and reputational issues. When a customer is upset, they want to know they were wronged, why it happened, and what you can do to make it right. If you lie to appease them, you damage the relationship and risk ending it if the truth is found out. I have always acted with honesty whenever there was an issue. I took responsibility for it, defined what happened, and provided some positive for the customer. I have found that, while the customer may be unhappy, the fact that you owned the issue and addressed it shows that the customer can trust you. This will create a situation where they may be more willing to let a small issue slide or extend a deadline because of the honest relationship. If you lie when it is your fault and create a sense of distrust in your company, you will poison your team and customers from the inside.
When you get a call at 2am from a customer because of an issue your company created, your customer does not want pandering and promises. They want results.
Be honest when it matters
What really drives the relationship is honesty during challenging situations. When you get a call at 2am from a customer because of an issue your company created, your customer does not want pandering and promises, they want results. At these difficult times, you need to provide honest replies with only facts. If you do not know an answer, tell them you are going to find out and call them back immediately. They key is to execute on the promise and show the customer that every dealing with you will be shown the same level of honesty. When you make calls and have the information you promised, reach back out to the customer and address the issues. Ensure that you have an agreed upon go forward strategy before you get off the phone. This should include next steps, communication frequency and timing, and complete list of expectations. While this is an agreement between you and the customer, they don't see a difference between you and the company. Your actions are that of the company. As such, ensure your team understands the promises and requirements you agreed to, since they have agreed to the same terms. Once the issues have been addressed, reach out to the customer and have a discussion. Use the challenge as an opportunity to build the relationship. This will further enhance the relationship and ensure your customer stays with you for a long time.
Honesty is a great trait to have when running a business, whether it’s with your employees, your customers, and even your family. When you’re honest with your team members, they become more trusting and honest with their own dealings. It’s your job as a service business owner to establish trust and honesty. Do that, and you can thrive. Without it, you risk more than just your reputation; you risk your entire business.