Show You Trust Your Customer


Want your customers to trust you? Demonstrate that you trust THEM! This may seem counterintuitive, but there’s sound neuromarketing reasoning behind it. The concept revolves around that seemingly magical neurochemical, oxytocin, which is a key factor in forming trust relationships. Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University and unofficial oxytocin evangelist, relates a story about how in his younger days he was the victim of a small-scale swindle. He now concludes that a key factor in getting him to fall for the con was that the swindler demonstrated that he trusted Zak.

The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you. Conmen ply their trade by appearing fragile or needing help, by seeming vulnerable… the human brain makes us feel good when we help others–this is the basis for attachment to family and friends and cooperation with strangers. “I need your help” is a potent stimulus for action. [From The Moral MoleculeHow to Run a Con.]

Zak goes on to explain that this behavior is all part of what he calls THOMAS – The Human Oxytocin Mediated Attachment System.

THOMAS’ effects are modulated by our large prefrontal cortex that houses the “executive” regions of the brain. THOMAS is all emotion, while the prefrontal cortex is deliberative… THOMAS causes us to empathize with others, the key to building social relationships.

How can this understanding help us sell more effectively? First, I want it to be clear that sales is NOT a con game, and any salesperson who treats it as one is unlikely to be successful for very long. Nevertheless, building trust IS an essential part of the sales process, and anything that we can do to foster that will pay dividends.

Building on what Zak suggests, one key way to build your customer’s trust is by demonstrating that you trust HIM. (Obviously, behaving in a transparent and trustworthy manner yourself is important as well.) How can you demonstrate trust in your customer? In a purely business context, making a loaner or trial product available with minimal restrictions could be one way. Establishing credit terms quickly and without the customer having to complete lengthy terms could be another. If the relationship with the customer is more personal, other opportunities might suggest themselves.

Have you found that extending your trust, in either a business or personal context, has paid the dividend of gaining the trust of the other party? Post a comment and let us know how…

  1. Jeff says

    There is a huge overlap between what you are discussing and Signaling Theory. My friend Tom Wanek discusses some applications of Signaling Theory to building credibility and trust in this blog post:

    I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    – Jeff

  2. Jim Lane says

    See “tryvertising” and some of the uses of it.

  3. John Caddell says

    Roger, I appreciate the angle of the con trusting the conned. This idea also appeared in the old David Mamet movie “House of Games,” where the con man told his mark, “It’s called a ‘confidence’ game, right? Why? Because you give me your confidence? No, because I give you mine.”

    regards, John

  4. Yann Ropars says

    I love trust. I also love social media. The interesting thing is that people struggle to make the lip and believe that being online presence (for be successful with twitter is also about trust. Sounds trivial?

    Soap box.
    I find myself is many situation where business leaders think of Social Media and Social Networking are for play time and young kids… it’s not really serious matters. I also hear people worried about all the layoff in newspaper industry and how they will get reliable news… (TRUST) –

    We are the media – we are rebuilding the information model like it should as we lost our way. Leaders need to transpose their trust model … otherwise their brand digital footprint will be eclipsed by their competition.
    End of soap box.


  5. Jason says

    Good explanation of what seems like a simple concept, but is very powerful once you realize it. The con analogy is perfect.

  6. nick says

    Yes! Trust is key! In this social media world. More companies should reach out to their customers. A great example is With getsatisfaction, companies can now engage their customers for feedback. This led us to create, which is like getsatisfaction but for local businesses.

  7. Beermatman says

    I agree; well I would since my family name is Thomas. However I find trusting people through internet connections rather difficult; maybe it’s my age but I like to meet people letting my feelings keep me safe; so to speak.
    Our company sells advertising space on the traditional Beermat; which allows me to meet my clients face to face and I’m comfortable with that.
    aka Beermatman

  8. alex mediapub says

    I have a problem when accepting the information of discussing and Signaling the real world tryvertising is the , integration of goods and services into daily life in a relevant way, so that consumers can make up their minds based on their experience, not your messages.

  9. Aurelius Tjin says

    Simple but informative post! Trust is really important in building a good relationship with your customers. Nice insights!

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