Show me a successful relationship without Trust


When I started in University, there were these little beige boxes with a built in screen over in the corner of the Typesetting room. 5 years after the first Apple Macintosh, personal computers were making their way into the training establishments for future newspaper and publishing industry employees.

Naturally most of the class avoided them. It was 1989 after all and in my experience most computers were still mainly for games or typing using Wordstar and DOS or Windows 3 if you were lucky. One or two significant others and I, however, did not. We taught ourselves Pagemaker 3.0, QuarkXPress 1.0 and Illustrator among other ways of doing things.

We drew and wrote things on that tiny screen, not necessarily because it was easier, but because it was different. And we grew to trust that little Mac Classic so much that even when we got fancy LCIIIs and Quadra 800s for the main class we still went back to it.

This week I talked with a friend about reasons why we buy certain products. Especially when we continually go back to the same brands. Even when those companies become surrounded by earned and unearned controversy.

I told him I believed it’s because we trusted what we were getting. I understand there is a bit more to it than that – value and cost springs to mind – especially on smaller ticket items. But I firmly believe trust is a large reason for sticking with a product. Trust in a brand, trust in the service, trust in the dependability of their products.

Similarly, I trust my coffee shop to give me the coffee the way they know I like it in the morning. Others might dispute my rationale that it’s the best coffee in Sydney. But I know I’m getting what I want and trust them to continue take care of my tastebuds.

Like us all, I’m a creature of habit. So what if we’re all wired subtly differently, we all have habits we find difficult to let go of. Otherwise, how can we explain our ongoing resistance to change, despite the knowledge that all things must, in the end, change?

While I was chatting about my first few weeks in college over a cup of coffee with a friend. I recalled how that time involved learning how to use the antiquated technology that was still in wide use in the Newspaper industry in 1989. Seven Inch Green screens. Eight inch floppy disks. Processing units the size of a Fiat 500.

Just so we could enter and tag text.

I adore those machines for teaching me my understanding of tagging, but not for being the key piece of a workflow which seemed idiotic even to a 17 year old know it all.

That those machines were still in wide use in the late 80’s seems odd to us now. But if you understood the industry they served you’d know it was probably because in a time of a slow adoption of new technology and in an industry even slower to move, they provided an easier and cheaper way of producing newspapers than traditional linotype and their ilk had become. Remember there were still plenty of hot metal printing shops in operation past 1989.

But those systems were also built and supported by companies such as Linotype. The same brand, with existing Customer Service and Support machinery. And a long history in the publishing and printing industry. A different product, yes, but a company trusted by that large industry with many of its key stakeholders resistant to change.

More than 20 years later, as we move into the second decade of the 21st century, it’s interesting to see similar trust patterns continue with new products in the consumer world. Those computers have shrunk even smaller than the MacClassic I described earlier and become consumer devices. Used in active and passive ways to assist us in enjoying our cosseted lifestyles. From the digital clock to the ATM to the car you drive, computers are in practically everything we touch.

The problem with most of these devices which make our lives easier is that we really don’t trust them. While we enjoy the benefits they bring to us, we expect them to fail us by breaking down at any moment. We rejoice when something survives past its warranty date, yet still buy cheap no name products and feel let down when they fail. Does that sound like a contradiction? Absolutely!

Many of us strive to buy certain products because we trust when we go to use them they will work. This is especially important for those things we don’t use too often. And when they don’t we trust the companies which make them to think it worthwhile to at least attempt fix them. In our consumer “buy, use and discard” society, it’s becoming more and more unusual to find products and services to buy which you can invest that type of trust in.

Our Bosch washing machine has been going for 8 years without a problem and our Bosch dishwasher (even older) survives manfully on one successful service call.

I don’t think it is a surprise then that Bosch use “Invented for Life” as their motto. It’s an interesting corporate statement, but considering their product quality, service and support perhaps apt. I take two meanings from it – we want you to use our products in your life and we want you to use our products for life.

So far not only do they say it, but when you see tradies trusting their power tools and our own experiences, I’m thinking its a reasonably safe bet you’ll get what they promise.

The quote “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved” by the Scottish Author and Poet George McDonald was shared this week on twitter and I was immediately struck by it. A very powerful statement, I think we’ll agree.

Thinking about this and talking with my wife, I realised that while personal relationships are built on many things, in the end trust grows to becomes the backbone of that relationship. Meeting for coffee or down the pub or chatting online are important relationship starters, but in the end are just an important habit or a ritual which we enjoy with each other.

Listening to others, taking what they say as truth or at least accepting their arguments despite disagreement. Accepting recommendations – those things are all built on trust.

The same can be said for relationships like marriage. Even those without a great deal of love often stay together because of force of habit. But those same relationships would disintegrate without trust.

An so in a week when Google announce their latest update to the Android operating system and have been in trouble for collecting our Private data as it was being sent over unsecured Wi-Fi connections, trust is on my mind when it comes to technology companies. And I’m not even going to mention a certain other online service.

Salesforce seem to understand the importance of being trusted by their users. Providing “real-time information on system performance and security” for their customers 24/7 is obviously a must have for the services which they provide. But why should it be limited to companies who operate exclusively on the internet?

I use Google services, and I love their Gmail and Search products, though I constantly question how they use the information I share with them and which they then use to make their profits.

And even though, on the face of it, those issues with Privacy are a completely different business to the Mobile Phone business, the reduction in trust of a company overall caused by recent admissions is going to be unhelpful to them. For example it’s not going to help convince me or anyone else to switch to the Phones supplied by Google’s Android Partners in the near future.

Naturally, they already have some way to go to convince many of us to trust their obviously clever and innovative products. They have no history with us to prove they can provide us with the dependability, reliability and service we have with existing products. For myself, I’m happy with what I currently use and most importantly what I currently use has not done anything to break my trust.

Like that MacClassic of 21 years ago, companies need to put something in my path at a time perfect enough to attract my attention and break my existing habits or create new ones. But even if they do that, those organisations which I do trust, like Apple and Bosch will still need to give me a series of bad customer experiences, either in service or product quality, to destroy that trust in order for me to even consider casting my net for alternatives.

As I see it recently only iPad (launching this week in Australia) has entered the market as a new habit creator of the form I mention above. Just as those in the publishing world who cast aspersions on the abilities of Desktop computers to replace the known systems back in the 1980’s were wrong, I believe the trust relationship Apple have built up in the marketplace for building reliable, usable products allied with good customer service will allow iPad to succeed.

However, it’s easy to make your fans happy, its another thing to have a sustainable level of reliability. Unless Apple proves the iPad habit changer is also worth trusting or Google and their vendors show that with Android they have a trusted habit breaker, it’ll be some time before we can say if either Product has legs built upon a trust well earned.

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11 thoughts on “Show me a successful relationship without Trust

  1. Great post, I was thrilled to see you mention Catherine’s tweet (she’s a friend of mine and someone I trust)

    Being interested in clarifying technology as I am, the notion of trust and technology companies is important to discuss. Do we trust them? Should a business trust its data with them? I like your example of Salesforce.COM (I’ve used their service extensively in the past) and know how important it is for them to maintain security of the data. Think about the implications for a moment: Salesforce manage their client’s sales pipeline data – this is information including client lists, progress of sales opportunities and more – highly confidential information. Yet they are growing their business: suggesting we do trust them.

    I am also interested in what IBM is doing (Disclaimer: I am consulting for an IBM Business Partner) Should businesses trust IBM over, say Google, with their data? I was encouraged to read about an award IBM won recently: “Best of Interop – Cloud Computing”
    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ibm-wins-best-of-interop-award-for-cloud-computing-2010-04-29?reflink=MW_news_stmp

    This was a timely announcement and encouraging to see: the sooner companies start trusting technology companies with their data (in the same way banks are trusted with their money) the sooner they will derive the benefits of “cloud computing”

    Thanks for sharing,
    Tony Hollingsworth

  2. When I was in Year 10, I did a week of “work experience” at the Sydney Morning Herald. Part of this meant hitting the typesetting and printing floor. It was so noisy that many of the typesetters suffered from industrial deafness. One introduced himself and produced my name in metal.

    Five years later the entire floor was replaced. Desktop typesetting and digital printing had started to arrive. It wasn’t just the technology that disappeared, but legions of workers.

    With all change comes disruption. But as you point out, it’s only the level of trust that keeps us on an even keel. The challenge in fast moving times is to bring your people along with you. So far, tech companies have a poor record on this front – but for longevity, dealing with people, creating trust (in both products and interactions) and being transparent and accountable are essential. Most brands have some way to go.

  3. What a timely post, and even more delicious for the mention. Notwithstanding, my late husband and I owned and operated a small to medium commercial printing company.

    I kid you not, the smell of ink and the sound of that five color press felt like we were making money. Sadly, with the passing of my husband I had to let the company go as we were on the edge of change, email was our latest new thing.

    Such fond memories, but then I love the print industry, publishing and media.

    That said, what interests me is the subject at hand … trust. I am aghast at the casual manner in which a number of key people handle their network, the ease in which they dismiss their concerns, and by doing so breach trust.

    Only this morning I sat in the hair salon, with my sexy Italian hairdresser ready to work his magic. Going away to New York for another three months, I’m nervous as I’ve yet to find a cutter in NYC to my satisfaction.

    He suggested a slight variation, to which ‘Dom, I said I’m in your hands.’

    Now on the surface this statement doesn’t say a great deal, except you need to understand the relationship I have my hairdresser. Seriously, I trust him more than I trust my Doctor or Bank Manager.

    We have been together for four years, during which time he has become acquainted with not only my hair, but my personality.

    Needless to say, I’m satisfied with my hair dresser, however while he was cutting my hair I thought about trust.

    Too many companies take trust for granted, insult their customers with shoddy products, and what’s worse won’t own their mistakes.

    Sure, I know we hear stories of Zappos and a handful of other brands who are successfully using social media to manage their reputations.

    However, I shake my head in disbelief, as the truth is there are more that don’t care, than those that do.

    It’s true, to be trusted is a far greater compliment than being loved. Earn trust first, and the love will follow.

    Great post — subscribed!

  4. Linotype Paul, takes me back. Stepping on the tape and tearing it, a few hours of bad setting down the drain, hoping against hope you could tape it back together and plough on!
    I wonder what your thoughts are on software companies, you mention Pagemaker and Quarkxpress near the beginning of your article. The importance of trust i think for me is illustrated by the case of Quark, for years an industry leader, out on its own, but too comfortable about its customer loyalty, too narrow minded to see the big changes needed to deal with pdf workflow, integrated solutions, even a straight forward issue like cost. I used to love it, but after version 4.5 I lost all trust in it.(I spent one full day on a customer service call with them trying to find out how to load my software from the 12 floppy disks they supplied it on when I no longer possesed a computer with a floppy drive). Abode just blew them away and now after using Quark every day for 15 years, I think I’ve used it once a month for the last 5 years, and even that because one semi state client can’t scrape together the budget funds to get CS.

  5. Great quote: “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved”. I think you can’t have love in a relationship without having trust, not at all.

    In fact, I think in any relationship, whether it’s business or personal, trust is at the core. If trust starts to break down, the relationship starts to break down. Sometimes it can even be (seemingly) small things that start the breakdown – small promises that are continually broken. For instance, how many times do parents promise their kids they’ll do something later with them, and then break the promise by never following through?

    As you explain, it can happen that way with companies too. Google and Facebook are certainly recent examples of the partial erosion of trust.

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