When Yoram Solomon, Ph.D., started researching the topic of trust, he came across some interesting reactions from the people he surveyed. He asked people to imagine they were considering two professionals offering the same deal—same price, same product, same service—but one provider was trustworthy and the other wasn’t. Not surprisingly, everyone chose the trustworthy provider. Then Solomon asked people if they would pay 10 percent more for the trustworthy provider, and 100% of respondents said yes. He asked if they would pay 20% more. A majority, 58%, said they would still choose the trustworthy provider. Solomon kept raising the hypothetical price of the trustworthy provider until he reached the conclusion that about 50% of people would pay almost 30% more to work with a trustworthy provider.
Since there’s great value in being trustworthy, Solomon next worked to develop a framework to help professionals in a variety of fields build trust for their businesses. He offers a workshop on the topic, covers it as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University, discusses it in detail on “The Trust Show” podcast, and literally wrote the book on it, “The Book of Trust.”
According to Solomon’s research, there are two main components that factor into one’s trustworthiness: who you are and what you do.
Who you are. People’s sense of who you are emerges primarily from your competence and your personal compatibility with them. You build your reputation for competence before meeting a potential photography client. Your website, your portfolio, the clothes you wear, the camera you’re carrying—they all factor into someone’s perception of your competence. Reviews and references are also important. Do you have good online reviews spread out over time from many different people? If not, regularly ask good clients for reviews, and keep your online reputation up to date. And make sure you have a list of references readily available. If it takes you a week to put together a list of people who might say something nice about you, that’s not a good sign. “Always think about what you can do to portray competence before you even start speaking,” says Solomon.
Personal compatibility is a more nebulous concept, but it’s equally important. People like to do business with people they’re compatible with. Sometimes it helps to hold similar opinions and personality traits as your clients. Other times, you can be complementary, offering some traits that aren’t their strong suit.
The main tool for increasing personal compatibility is empathy. “Often we use the word empathy and we’re really talking about compassion or pity,” explains Solomon. “Empathy is the ability to see things from the other person’s perspective as if you were them. Pay attention when you interact with your potential client. Understand what they care about, what their concerns are. Your ability to sense what someone needs is what builds that personality compatibility.”
What you do. Your actions make up the other primary factor in trustworthiness. To build trustworthiness through your actions, it’s important to be genuine and forthright. In almost any business, the most successful people are those who do what they say they’ll do, when they say they’ll do it. It’s a surprisingly simple formula that far too many people don’t carry out.
When communicating, be consistent. Maintain a steady message, and ensure that your words, actions, and body language are consistent. When someone says something that’s inconsistent with their body language or facial language, or is inconsistent with previous statements, it erodes trust. Stick to your genuine responses, and if you need to deviate from the original message, be up front about why.
Don’t ask clients what would make a great photo session for them. They consider it your job to know.
If something bad happens that hurts your trustworthiness, the first thing to do, says Solomon, is to own it. “There are people who will blame everyone and everything else. That only hurts your trustworthiness more. Instead, if there’s a problem, ask yourself What did I do wrong? It’s your business. The buck stops with you. Take responsibility so you can move forward.”
The second thing you should do is ask a very simple question: What can I do to make this right? It’s best to ask this at the highest level of intimacy, face to face. If that’s not possible, schedule a video conference. Look your client in the eye and make sure they understand your sincerity.
Sometimes broken trust has nothing to do with you. It may be related to a previous experience your client had with another photographer who betrayed their trust. You may want to ask new clients if they’ve had bad experiences in the past with other photographers. If they had a bad experience, ask more questions. What went wrong? What made it a bad experience? Asking these questions is a great way to find out what people care about as well as their expectations. That’s because negative experiences have a higher emotional impact than positive experiences, and we tend to remember them more acutely and in more detail. Don’t ask clients what would make a great photo session for them. They consider it your job to know. By asking them what made other photo sessions less than exceptional, you’ll get plenty of information on how you can build a strong, trusting relationship from the start.
“If we limit the intimacy to just written words, then the client is left to fill in the gaps in the communication.”Yoram Solomon, Ph.D.
With the components of trust in mind, what can you do to build a solid foundation of trust with your clients? Yoram Solomon offers eight recommendations.
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.