queue croppedIn the last few years, we’ve seen quite a few corporate reversals that have come about via social media. For example, Bank of America proposed charging customers a $5 monthly fee for using their debit card. It didn’t take long for a social media revolt from customers to get BOA to reverse that decision.

Late last year, Verizon Wireless announced they were going to charge customers a “convenience fee” for paying their bills online. That quickly was beaten down, again thanks to technology and social media allowing consumers to voice their opinions collectively.

Those are just two examples. The list of corporate reversals is long, from Netflix to Blackberry to Hewlett-Packard. So what’s really going on?

First, in a world filled with uncertainty, you have to ask what you are certain about? The number one thing I’m certain about is that the future is all about relationships. If you want a positive future, then you need to have positive relationships with your customers. And if you want positive relationships, you have to focus on the glue that holds a positive relationship together. What is that glue? It’s trust, which you earn through your values, such as honesty, integrity, delivering on promises, and so on.

Whenever you don’t consider trust when you take an action, you undermine the trust you have and can turn a positive relationship into a negative one. In the world of business, that means you lose your customers.

Unfortunately, I see many companies following the model of the airlines, where they charge additional fees for things that used to be included, such as baggage fees, food fees, pillow and blanket fees, etc. Wherever they can find a way to charge you, they’re doing it.

But ask yourself, “How much do customers like the airlines and appreciate those fees?” The answer: They don’t, because there is no added value to those fees.

So how do you win? Well, you don’t do it by following a losing model. Here’s a better approach: Before you implement any new product, service, or change in policy or procedure, ask yourself, “Where is trust, currently, between our company and our customers?” Then ask yourself, “If we implement this change in this way, what happens to trust?” If the answer is, “Trust will go down,” then don’t do it in that way.

Notice the words I used. I didn’t say “don’t do it.” I said, “Don’t do it in that way.” The insight is: It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it. It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. It’s not what you implement; it’s how you implement it. 

So the next question is: “How could we change how we say it, do it, implement it, or charge for it so that people would maintain trust?”

Too many times, companies just assume trust. Since it’s assumed, they don’t think about it. As a result, they implement things based on the bottom line figures without realizing their actions could be undermining trust and ultimately bankrupting the company.

So the real bottom line is this: Instead of acting out of profitability, let’s think first about growth, relationships, and trust. When you put trust first, the bottom line usually takes care of itself.