I’ve been thinking about the topic of trust for years, ever since a client said to me, “Trust is a luxury I could never afford in business.” In other words, “No, I don’t trust you.” This particular conversation was about a light fitting that I’d charged him £X for on a London project and £Y for on a French project (for the same thing, £X was correct and £Y was overcharged). That was the catalyst for a 50% settlement of a sizeable combined final account across five properties for this one client. A take it or leave it deal. So, we lost the client’s trust — and enough money to hurt.
This error in my paperwork wasn’t intentional, it was a genuine oversight, but as this client pointed out, “It’s amazing that mistakes on invoices are never in favor of the client.” I had no rebuttal. We had the trust and then it was gone — or maybe it was never there to begin with. Either way, poor documentation shot me in the foot.
I suppose the lesson here is that I relied on trust to shore up my shortfalls. The final account was made up mostly of changes that we hadn’t processed in real time (or hadn’t produced documentation for). So maybe I was hoping that the trust I thought was there would carry favor at the end of the day. I’ve since leared that’s not how it works, and I’d be lying if I said this kind of thing didn’t happen more than once.
When it comes to agreements, a handshake isn't enough.
That was ten years ago and the conclusion that I’ve reached is that you don’t need trust in business. You shouldn’t ask for it or expect it, not when you’ve got your business hat on. Trust should have no place where money is changing hands.
I’ve now erased trust from my business vocabulary, and I’ve replaced it with documentation.
My clients no longer have to trust that I’m going to do a, b, and c. It’s all written down. Every detail of my service is specified up front: performance specifications, technical specifications, functional specifications, scope of work, service level agreements with T&Cs, health and safety, and insurance coverage.
Although you also need to replace trust with belief, this, however is a by-product of good documentation and collateral — certifications, awards, press, references (don’t wait to be asked for them!), case studies, your mission statement, your “Why,” and testimonials from clients, suppliers, subcontractors, staff, peers, and your competitors (you’d be surprised). Have all of these arrows in your quiver. The result: Your clients (particularly new clients) don’t need to trust you. They just need to believe you. Good documentation feeds that belief.
Belief and documentation will win the day over trust every time.
About the author: Davy Currie is the Managing Director of Infracore. infracoreuk.co.uk