Sunday, November 11, 2007

A formula for trust?

I just came across a short but insightful post from AdvertisingLab which picked up on a slide from the Brand Gap deck (if you haven't seen it before, take a few minutes to check it out -- there's a lot of business lingo and noise, but there are some useful comments on brands and brand maintenance as well).

In any event, the slide that Ilya at Adverlab pointed out was a simple marketing "formula" that reads:

T = r + d
(Trust = reliability + delight)


His comment is that regardless of whether or not the statement is true when you read it from left to right, it's dangerous to think of it as a true formula, since some basic algebra would yield an equivalent statement:

d = T - r
(delight = Trust - reliability)


Ilya holds that this is not true, and indeed it sounds kind of funny. But got me thinking... how far off base is that second statement, actually? P&G often uses the term "surprise and delight" when talking about the First Moment of Truth (FMOT) -- that moment when a customer first comes encounters your product in the store. Their terminology implies (to me, at least) that delight is not just being happy, but it's being unexpectedly happy. It's the surprise that allows for the delight. So take that and go back up to our d = T -r. Now of course, I'm certainly not delighted when my computer crashes or my car dies on the highway. But I don't think that's the meaning of the word "reliability" that the formula is trying to convey. It might be better to substitute the synonym "reproducibility" for "reliability". That would give us:

delight = Trust - reproducibility

Literally, we become delighted when something that we trust produces something unexpected. Again, this assumes that the trusted item is trusted because it's good, it performs well, or it can be counted on to accomplish its primary task. The not necessarily reproducible bit has to be something positive, not negative. But given those constraints, I think it's fair to say that this equation does seem to work.

Unfortunately, the third equivalence r = T - d (reliability = trust - delight) doesn't work out quite as well, so Ilya's point that these things aren't really formulaic still holds true. In a way, it's kind of comforting to know that what delights me can't be distilled into a three letter equation. On the flip side of that, though, if there were guaranteed, easy ways to ensure that we were always delighted, we'd all be happier for it, right?

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1 comment:

Charles H. Green said...

Let me go you one better.

Here's the "trust equation," from The Trusted Advisor, Free Press, 2001, by myself (Charles H. Green) and co-authors David Maister and Rob Galford.

It was "designed, built and road-tested" to work as a formula--not as merely a rhetorical device or fluorish.

It is
T = (C + R + I) / S where

T = trustworthiness
C = Credibility
R = Reliability
I = Intimacy
S = Self-orientation

And here are some formulaic bona fides.

First, it is not a formula for trustingness (a characteristic of he who trusts), nor of trust itself (a characteristic of the bi-lateral relationship), but of trustworthiness (a characteristic of the one who would be trusted). Most other equations confuse those factors.

Second, it is intentionally arithmetic, not multiplicative, because in the real world, the complete absence of one numerator factor doesn't necessarily invalidate perceived trustworthiness. Think of accountants (high C), nurses (high I), and the phone company's dial-tone (high R) as cases with high scores in one area, enough to counter very low scores in others.

Third, the presence of one factor in the denominator vs. three in the numerator suggests that self-orientation is more powerful than the other three factors. A used-car dealer has to do an awful lot vis a vis credibility, reliability and intimacy to overcome a huge institutional perceived self-orientation in that role. All the numerator factors are called into question when the would-be trustee is seen as in it for his own good, not for yours. The formula also claims that perceived selfishness is the only variable which can, by itself, reduce trustworthiness to zero.

Finally, it works in commonsense situations. Try putting numbers on it for new vs. existing customers. Or for varying professions. Or to distinguish one trust-seeker from another.

Props to Synectics, whose earlier version of C+I/R (where R was risk) may have conflated trust and trustworthiness, but gave us some good clues nonetheless.

No formula can capture the complexity of human relationships. But this one, we feel, does a pretty good job.