The Nature of Trust

whitetaildeerWhile I was walking in the woods the other day, I chanced upon a family of white-tailed deer. The group of four appeared to be an adult female and three youngsters. Though I’ve sighted many a deer in these woods, on this particularly lovely, crisp fall day, I hesitated far longer than usual.

As I admired the beautiful creatures, I began to think about trust. The deer seemed to trust me. Why?

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

— Ernest Hemingway

Initially, I remained very still, taking in their beauty. They were still, as well. I shuffled my feet, accidentally, and the four glanced immediately my way, but stayed in place.

I experimented by taking a few, tiptoed steps toward the animals. Though their eyes were all trained on me, for some reason, they trusted me. As I continued my experiment, a few steps at a time, all eight eyes were fixated my way. The deer allowed me to creep within ten feet of them.

Then, another person walking his dog (on a leash, thankfully) appeared out of nowhere. The doe and her three youngsters made a swift exit. The trust I’d slowly built with my new friends was immediately thwarted. All of the progress I had so carefully made vanished.

Luckily, the dog and his master quickly moved on. The deer began to settle down and inch back over my way.

Trust is like that. It takes much longer to build a trusting relationship than to derail it. In a relationship with a customer or a friend, it can take just one wrong move to break the trust.

My walk in the woods reminded me to tread steadily and carefully in my business and personal relationships, taking nothing for granted. It also reminded me to build as much trust as I can “up front.” If I have a strong foundation with my customers or friends, built on years of trust, a slight falter on my part just might go unnoticed.

by Rebecca Cochran

Photo courtesy

The Art of Empathy

If you’re a creative person, empathy can be your most powerful weapon. Why? Because practicing the art of empathy can enable you to solve real problems for your customers.

Yes, empathy is an art. And, like any other of the arts, empathy needs to be practiced regularly in order to excel at it.


Photo by Ryan McGuire

So, how do you practice empathy? Start by sharpening your senses.

Listen: Practice really listening to your customer. Listen when he/she makes a big, bold statement. Often, that big, bold statement is a clue to what he’s most concerned about, i.e., what he may consider his biggest challenge. Listen for words or phrases he uses over and over. They could provide clues to what’s most important to him. Listen, also, for silence. Depending on your customer’s communication style, he may suddenly become silent when quizzed about a particularly problematic area of his business. This could be a signal that he feels he has an “unsolvable” problem.

Ask: Ask your customer, “Why?” and “How?” about everything. Ask even the obvious questions. Don’t assume you know the answers. You might be surprised at some of his answers. Asking those questions several times again in different ways will help you get to the real answers.

Look: Watch your customer when he/she speaks to you. Body language can be telling. A sudden animated gesture may point to what he currently considers his most pressing problem. If he shrugs his shoulders in resignation, it may indicate that he has all but given up on finding an answer to a particular problem.

Feel: Consciously think about how you feel when using your customer’s product or service. Give yourself this feel test and be sure to take notes: Document how you feel just before using the product or service. Next, document how you feel as you’re using the product/service. Then, describe and document your feelings after using the product or service. Be specific. Don’t leave anything out. Small things can turn out to be important things.

Touch/Taste: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer’s customer. Walk the aisles of his store. Touch his products. Put together that toy or shelf with your own two hands. Dine in his restaurant. Taste his food. Drink his coffee. Experience the buying process from start to finish.

Observe: Take time to observe your customer’s customers as they interact with his products or services. Not everyone will interact with them the same way you do.

Combine: Combine your senses to become a better observer. Watch and listen for inconsistencies in what your customer says and does. If he says one thing and does something else, this may alert you to a problem in need of solving.

Practice: Practice these empathy exercises to learn more about your customers and their customers. Take notes. Organize your thoughts. Share your ideas with others on your team. Draw conclusions together.

Empathy is an art…and there’s no such thing as too much art.

by Rebecca Cochran

7 Best Practices I Learned at Starbucks

CafeI enjoy my morning coffee ritual for so many reasons. The obvious benefit is that wonderful jolt of caffeine that helps to jump-start my day.

Yesterday morning, as I was sitting at my usual Starbucks enjoying my tall dark roast for here, I thought about one of the other benefits to starting my day there: observing and learning from the constant flow of customers. Yesterday, however, I concentrated on observing the staff. At this particular Starbucks, the staff is phenomenal. They (and the coffee) keep me coming back.

Practices I observed include:

They listen. No matter how busy the store became, the listening never stopped. One customer seemed to be sharing a particularly long, drawn-out story with the cashier, even whipping out her phone to share a photo. The cashier seemed to hang on her every word, certainly making that customer’s day. Meanwhile, the baristas, busily concocting tall “this” and grande “that’s,” listened and chatted happily with customers waiting for their orders.

They speak the language of their customers. I observed that same cashier interacting with various customers. Her demeanor and vocabulary seemed to change, depending on which of her regular customers was in front of her at the moment. This savvy professional obviously knows the value of speaking the language of her customers.

They smile. All staff members smile – at their customers and at each other. A smile can go such a long way, especially first thing in the morning.

They work as a team. This particular crew is impressive, working seamlessly together as a tight-knit team in small quarters.

They never stand still. They work and move quickly and efficiently. Even when there was a momentary lull in the customer flow, I noted that no staff member stopped moving. Each person made good use of the short downtime by refreshing stock, replenishing ingredients, bagging up trash, etc.

They go the extra mile. At one point, yesterday, a customer inadvertently left her credit card behind. The cashier could have easily placed it behind the counter until the customer realized it was missing and returned to retrieve it. The cashier went the extra mile, however. When he realized what had happened, he raced out of the store into the parking lot, found the customer as she was about to speed away and, no doubt, made her day by returning her card immediately.

They know the power of “Thank You.” Along with a smile, those two powerful words were uttered every few seconds by cashiers, baristas and managers alike.

It amazes me what can be learned at Starbucks. These best practices should be universal, no matter what work we’re doing.

by Rebecca Cochran