A New Trust Equation: A Guide to Creating Rampant Word-of-Mouth and Increased Consumer Loyalty

Change is an interesting word, isn't it? It's a word that strikes both excitement and fear. Sometimes it's sought out, other times it's avoided like change. In this post, I'll be introducing you to a new trust equation (for the second time), one that I will go into great detail. One that will cause you to look at business differently and force you to make changes. It is my intent to give you enough meat that you can start using the new trust equation in your business right away. First, though, why trust?

Why is Trust in Business so Important?

Bottom line: organizations with a high level of trust are more successful. For trust to work there must be both a trustee (you) and trustor (the consumer). It's the job of the trustee to be trustworthy while it's the job of the trustor to take risks. It's when the trustee is good enough at their job to minimize the risk in the mind of the trustor that a relationship is formed.

Trust is the basis of both customer loyalty and word-of-mouth. Think about it, if a consumer doesn't trust the way you do business they won't become a loyal customer and they sure won't be telling others about you. Therefore, trustworthiness should be the core of how you do business. It's the same if it's a product or a service, be trustworthy.

Being trustworthy isn't just for the consumer. It's also for your vendors, employees and all stakeholders in your business. Trust, of course, has to be a two-way street. In other words as a business, you must learn to be both trustworthy and trusting. One is impossible without the other; they go hand in hand. When it comes to being trustworthy, it's just as important for your employees to trust you as it is for your customers to trust you. That comes full circle to what I said earlier; trustworthiness should be the core of how you do business.

The Equation

While my trust equation is different, it's not the first. In fact, there have been many different iterations of it over the years, a lot of good ones. So, why did I feel the need to develop a new one? Because, it just made sense. If you take a look at one of the most recognized ones, co-authored by Charles H. Greene, in the book The Trusted Advisor:

Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self Orientation

I feel that it doesn't go far enough. That's not to say that I don't agree with the above equation; it's just that it's missing a few things, things such as engagement, enchantment, and attunement. But, more on that later.

So, without further ado:


Before I go further I think it's important that we talk math first, it's not that I think you're dumb, it's just that for some of us a lot of time has passed since school, and we tend to forget the order of operations. I've always remembered it as Please Excuse My Dear Aunty Sally, which stands for:

  • Parentheses
  • Exponents
  • Multiplication
  • Division
  • Addition
  • Subtraction

Of course, there is the whole from left to right thing with multiplication/division and addition/subtraction, but this is a post on trust, not math. 🙂

So, if we take the parentheses first, we get Integrity + Credibility + Customer Enchantment. Add all those up and multiply by Attunement. Next, we take all of that to the power of Engagement. To drive the point home, let's substitute the letters for numbers, it would look something like this:


  • =(5(6))2
  • =302
  • =30x30
  • =600

Wow, that's a big number! Why? Because while Integrity, Credibility, and Customer Enchantment are important Attunement and Engagement are force multipliers. Again, more on that later. Now that we understand the math of the New Trust Equation it's time to dig into the meat of it.

The Parts of the Equation

Now that we have the math out of the way it's time to focus on each part of the New Trust Equation and how each fits into the overall equation. Let's go in the order of operation and start with Integrity.


There are two parts of integrity that I want to discuss. The first is the most obvious and is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Integrity is about being incorruptible. A lot of people have also defined integrity as doing what is right even when nobody is around. In other words, integrity is all about being consistent with your moral principles. Those principles don't change, even when nobody is looking. So, does your business do what's right even if nobody will ever find out otherwise? I sure hope so.

For integrity to truly shine it must be a cornerstone of how you do business. It's core to any good and trustworthy brand. Believe me, when I say that nobody wants to do business with a company that lies, cheats or tricks its customers into doing business with them. The same holds true for employees; I've left good paying jobs because the integrity of the company didn't align with my own. Which takes me to the other part of integrity.

Integrity also means the state of being whole and undivided. If your brand is divided on which moral principles define it, then the brand can't be consistent across all fronts. If it can't be consistent, then there is no way that you can say that your business has integrity. By its very definition integrity is all of or none of. What am I trying to say? I'm saying that if you want to be a morally principled company, one that shows integrity no matter the cost, then you can't have a rogue employee that lacks morality. You must be whole and undivided to have integrity.

To put this into practice, it's important that you put into writing what the moral principles of the company are and make sure that you check it often. Think of this as your moral compass, as a way to keep the brand on the right course. It's human nature to rationalize everything, in hindsight we tend to trick ourselves into believing that we made the right choice based off of the situation. That's why it's important that everybody in the business has a firm understanding of what it means to have integrity and how the company, as a whole, expresses it. In fact, by doing this, you make things easier on the employee as choices become much easier to make. At that point, the only real decision to make is if it aligns with the companies moral principles or not.


Credibility is all about believability. Are you believable? Can people take you at your word? Are you an authority? Credibility is everything in the business world. It can be hard to build but easy to destroy. The success of the New Trust Equation, and of your business, relies on your credibility. Why? Because it tells people if they can count on you. It tells them if they can continue to expect the same level of customer service and product quality. So, how do you build credibility?

  • Don't be a know it all. I understand that you want to give your customers all the answers, but it's important that you relay to your employees that it's okay NOT to know it all. It's much better to tell the customer that you don't know something and that you'll find out than it is to give them the wrong answer. You may not always be found out, but if you ever are, there goes your credibility.
  • Stop over promising. Like most people I hate being let down. If you tell me to expect one thing but deliver something else, I'm not going to be happy, and you know what, I'm not alone in that thinking. Instead, always try to over deliver. I'll be writing more about that in the next section.
  • Don't tell people what they want to hear. I used to do this, and it severely hurt my credibility. People come to me to learn. They want me to point them in the right direction instead of saying that they are doing a good job. Sometimes you have to tell the customer they are wrong, but as long as you don't leave it there and give them the tools to do it right, you credibility will soar. Of course, your recommendations must deliver the goods.
  • Don't be condescending. Not everybody speaks your lingo. People will ask dumb questions. Questions that you've answered a million times before. So, what? It's the first time they've asked it, and you need to explain it without being condescending. Why? Because people will know that you're a jerk and won't want to do business with you. I will go on to say that some people make a living by being jerks but only because they over deliver and hit on so many other fronts that people tend to overlook it.
  • Have a sense of humor. I get it; you want to be all business. But, it's okay to be human. Don't be so self-important that you forget what it means to be a human being.

These are just a few ways to show credibility but what can you do, as a brand, to physically showcase it? Create content. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you know what you are talking about is to talk about it. Do you have a content creation strategy in place? As a company are you blogging, creating videos, podcasting, all of the above? If not, it's something that you should consider doing. Yes, it is extra work but if you create the type of content that answers the questions consumers are asking then you become the answer. I'll be writing more on this topic in upcoming posts, make sure to subscribe below and I'll get it to you when complete.

Customer Enchantment

I've written a few posts on this before; I highly encourage you to read them:

Customer enhancement goes beyond good customer service. Good customer service is something that we all expect. When we go to a restaurant, a store, hire a plumber or visit the dentists we expect a certain level of service. Most of the time we don't expect the world, but we do expect to be treated courteously. Therein lies the problem. By giving your customers what they expect, you're missing the mark. In a big way.

It's the difference between what's expected of us and the level of customer service we give that will determine if a customer becomes a loyal customer or just more churn. I'll use a real-life example of when I took my wife out to eat on her birthday. I took her to a new steak house here in Colorado Springs called Cowboy Star. It started when I booked the reservation and asked that my wife be greeted by her name and wished a happy birthday upon arrival. I even ordered flowers and made sure that they would be on the table when we got there. Before I got there I expected the flowers to be on the table; I expected them to wish my wife a happy birthday and I expected a good meal with good service.

cowboy star

My Actual Steak from Cowboy Star

As you can imagine, there are two difference reasons why I could be telling you this story. The first is that the flowers weren't there, and everything was terrible, or the flowers were there, and they went so far above and beyond what I expected that I was enchanted. I'm happy to say that it was the latter, our experience at the Cowboy Star was the single best experience we've ever had at a restaurant. Before I get into that, I need to point out that if I had gotten just what I expected, then I wouldn't be talking about them at all. Remember what I said earlier: It's the difference between what's expected of us and the level of customer service we give that will determine if a customer becomes a loyal customer or just more churn.

Yes, the hostess did wish my wife a happy birthday and they did use her name just like I asked. The flowers were on the table but so were menus that had my wife's name printed on them. When our waitress introduced herself, she used both of our names and also wished my wife a happy birthday. While the food was some of the best I've ever had, what stood out to me was the fact that whenever somebody new walked by our table they also said, "Happy Birthday, Emma."

There were, at least, six different people that told my wife happy birthday that night and to top it off when I checked in on Facebook, somebody at Cowboy Star commented on my post thanking us for coming in while we were still in the restaurant! Everything about our experience was enchanting. The service was impeccable, the food was fantastic, and I got some serious brownie points with my wife, what more could a guy ask for?

How can you enchant your customers? What can you do to make them think WOW! The surest way to create loyal customer is to go so far above and beyond what they expect that they can't help but to tell others about you. Make sure you read the posts I linked to earlier, they have more examples of how you can stand out from the crowd.


Attunement is all about harmony. It's about the creation of a sympathetic relationship, to bring into one accord. I'm a huge fan of cause-based marketing and seeing businesses making a difference in their communities. I've written many posts on the topic and will continue to do so. In fact, I'm in the process of creating an OnDemand Social Branding course that should be available by mid-February 2016. Here are a couple of posts of mine that I recommend you check out on the topic of social good.

The idea of being in tune with the community is to showcase that you are one of them. Think about it, who do you trust more? Complete strangers or a close friend? Attunement is a critical aspect of creating trust; it multiplies the force of being credible, having integrity and customer enchantment. Being a force multiplier, attunement must be paid close attention to.

Do you care about what the consumer cares about? I'm not referring to care as it relates just to your product or service; I'm referring to the idea of social objects and the bigger picture. From my post, Social Purpose - Why it Matters to Your Companies Bottom Line, here is what I wrote about what a social object is:

  • It’s Conversational: people are having conversations in their living room, at work, and in their online social networks about the cause.
  • It Brings People Together: people want to be around other people that are connected with the cause. The cause creates community because it brings people together.
  • It’s Talk Worthy: people feel the desire to tell other people, who may not know about the cause, so that they, in turn, become part of the cause (community).

Is attunement starting to make sense? If not, think about something that you are passionate about. Maybe it's a lifestyle like surfing, a sports team, ending homelessness, maybe it's Apple or PC, whatever it is how do you feel about people who are also passionate about the same things, how do you feel towards them? The odds are that you feel closer to them. You want to be around them and talk about your shared passion, am I right?


Engagement is an exponent. Much like Attunement, Engagement is a force multiplier. Only, it multiplies more force. So, we take Integrity and add Credibility & Customer Enchantment and then multiply all of that by Attunement. Then we take that value and increase it to the power of Engagement. Without using numbers, that may be a bit difficult to grasp so make sure to scroll back up and take a look at the section where I use real numbers.

Think about how friendships are grown. They are created through engagement. You can share the same passions, both be credible and have a tremendous amount of integrity but if you don't take the time to get to know each other, then a relationship can't blossom. That's why it's important to engage your community. In today's day and age that becomes much easier than it did before. You have Facebook and Twitter, Linkedin and Instagram. But, don't forget that you also have face-to-face, never forget face-to-face.

This is where Attunement and social objects come into play. Yes, you can engage around cat videos but wouldn't it behoove you to engage around the things that matter most, not only to you but your community as well?

I've developed a simple way to think about how connecting around social objects makes sense; I call it the Golden Triangle of Community Engagement. 

If you take a look at the image to the right, you will notice that there are three parts to it. The bottom left is your business with the bottom right being the community. The problem with the way most companies engage is that they try to reach out to the community and engage them directly. The dilemma with that is that there isn't anything they two sides have in common and engagement usually falls flat. But, if the business focuses more on the social object that the community is already passionate about, then the there is something worthwhile to engage around.

If we take the idea of aiding the homeless, you get a better idea of how you can engage the community around the things that matter to them. I'm not talking about stroking a check; I'm talking about making a difference. I'm talking about putting programs in place where you collect jackets and socks during the winter or spending time feeding the hungry, as a company.

I sincerely believe that, as a business, it's your responsibility to make the community a better place than before you opened up shop, so to speak. I'm not alone there, take a look at these stats:

  • 87% of global consumers believe that a business should place at least as much weight on the interest of society as they do in their interest of business.
  • 76% of people think it’s okay for a brand to support a social purpose and make money at the same time.
  • When quality and price are equal, 53% of people say that social purpose ranks as the most important factor in selecting a brand.
  • 72% of people said they would recommend a brand based off of their social purpose.
  • 71% of people said they would promote a brand based off of their social purpose.
  • 3% of people said they would switch brands based off of their social purpose.

Stats are from the Edelman PR Group study.

Putting the Equation into Practic is Just Good Business

It's taken some time to explain, but I'm confident that you now have a better understanding of why trust is important and how to go about gaining it. Being trustworthy is mandatory. If you want to grow your business, then it's imperative that you create the type of relation that fosters loyalty and word-of-mouth.

Take a close look at all the parts of the New Trust Equation and figure out where your brand is falling flat. Talk with your team, really dig in and soul search and then come back stronger in 2016. I'll be writing more about the parts of the equation and how you can go about earning it. Make sure to subscribe below so that you don't miss them.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, please comment below and let's have a conversation!


  1. Fran Taylor on December 30, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    This is 100% right on David. Outstanding article.

    • David N Johnson on December 30, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      Thank you, Fran. I’m glad you liked it!

    • David N Johnson on February 6, 2016 at 1:36 am

      Thank you, Fran. I’m glad you liked it!