How to Build Trust if You’re a Service, not a Product

woman with bare arms working on a car engine

How to Build Trust if You’re a Service, not a Product

What can you do when there’s nothing to see, touch, or smell?

Last week my car went in for registration. It failed. It needs a new air-conditioning belt. And a tensioning pulley – whatever that is.

The funny thing was, I just had it replaced. And the pulley thing.

So who has diddled who?

An old friend who is an amazing sculptor doesn’t like taking his car to mechanics either.

“You never know if you’re getting diddled,” he said.

If your business is offering a service, suspicion comes naturally.

After all, you’re not tangible. It’s not a physical thing, like a can of drink or a new shirt.

There are all sorts of risks for using a new service. As service business owners, we can’t remove the risk. But we can reduce the perception of the risk.

Think about these types of risks.

There is Financial Risk. Money changes hands. Sometimes it’s a lot.  Solicitors, lawyers, real estate agents, accountants, financial planners.

Physical Risk Getting a wisdom tooth removed, seeing a doctor, physio, chiropractor, or massage therapist.

Social Risk Getting a bad haircut, for example, is visible and embarrassing, albeit temporary.

Psychological Risk Seeing a psychologist, a life coach, or a counsellor, for example, could potentially damage your self-esteem. Or be a waste of money.

What Should a Service Brand Do?

Build a Strong Brand

If you are in a service business, a strong brand will reduce the perceived risk. But you don’t have the money of Apple or IKEA.

So how do you build a strong brand if you have almost no promotions budget?

First of all, get the story straight. Define the problem you solve. Solve it. Show them how you did it.

Consumers can have a positive opinion about a brand even if they have never experienced it.

I know that American Express means “triumphant capitalism” and HSBC is a trustworthy bank. Have I ever used either? No.

Any sized business can create a strong and consistent brand.

All activities should have a certain style, tone, and feel. Consistency is key.

Don’t mix typefaces and use multiple logos.

Get Referrals

Research has shown that references from opinion leaders and word of mouth are more credible than a business’s own company communications.

It is especially important for some industries in which a negative attitude or legal constraint may exist toward advertising (e.g. medical, dental).

If you have good testimonials, use them in your communications. It is more credible to have someone saying how great you are, rather than you saying it.

Ask for the Business.

Tell your clients to recommend you. Remind them. Reward them.

“The only path to profitable growth may lie in a company’s ability to get its loyal customers to become, in a way, its marketing department.” Reichheld, Harvard Business Review 2003 (Creator of the Net Promoter Score).

Enhance Perceptions of Control

The more control your client feels they have, the more comfortable they will be. That doesn’t mean they have to have control, but that they perceive there are no uncertainties.


Communicate clearly and use plain terms. Make sure they understand you. Let them know what the process is from the outset. When you finish the first step, let them know what comes next.

If your website is going to be down or your office will be closed on a day it’s normally open, FOREWARN people. Put out a Facebook post, and update the website/ You could even email all your customers and let them know you’ll be closed and why.

After the Service

Your client will not make their evaluation of your service until AFTER they have consumed it. There are a few important factors here.

Ever have a sense of regret after you fork out money for something? Maybe you can’t put your finger on why. It’s just a general unease.

It’s called post-purchase cognitive dissonance. This is an experience of discomfort by the client as to whether they have made a good decision.

How do you reduce that sense of doom?

Reassured through tangible clues and personal after-sales service. Send them an email. Attach some great testimonials. See that other people were satisfied.

Sending a thank you note, postcard, or letter can make a big difference.

Send more information about the service benefits, a Certificate or warranty, and ensure that the paper stocks are heavy, as these are all quality indicators.

If somebody has invested in a Term Deposit, for example, don’t send them a black and white photocopy of a Term Investment Certificate on bond paper. Ensure it is quality, thick, branded and personally signed so as to convey trust and that the money is safe.

Universal Customer Needs

There are all different kinds of services. But four principles that are universal.

1. Security

Every service customer must feel safe. Is your service delivery environment free of dangers?

2. Respect

Do your staff feel valued and respected? If not, they may in turn cause your customers not to feel this way.

3. Esteem

The self-concept of the customer should be maintained and improved. People may use a health club to lose weight, but you would never criticise them. You encourage and support them on their health journey.

4. Fairness

It is absolutely essential to treat people fairly and without discrimination.

If your accounting firm wants high-net-worth clients, make that very clear in your communications. Don’t provide sloppy service because they are not your target customer. That’s not their fault. That’s your fault.

Risk Equals Reward

There may be higher perceived risks with Services, but there are also more rewards. Your service isn’t a flash in the pan. You’re building a relationship.

As such, you can build a long-term future together, if you play your cards right. You can co-create solutions together and have strong loyalty.

This is why I love service brands. They mean something. Whatever that may be. It means there has to be trust. It has to be fair.

For me, it’s about showing your human decency. And that has an emotional element. Services make the business world more fun.

Even if I have to get an air conditioning belt… again.

Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash