The Trusted Service Business

Dennis Schrag/Tree Full of Owls

What is a “trust-based” business? Defining it is no small task.

Over the past 25 years, the U.S. economy has radically changed. We shifted from a manufacturing-based economy to one that is all about service. Today, it’s estimated that nearly 75 percent of Americans work in the service sector.

Harry Beckwith in the book “Selling the Invisible” explains, “More and more of us are in the business of providing intangibles–health care, entertainment, tourism, legal services, consulting, and so on.” Customers can’t kick the tires and look under the hood, before they buy service. Usually the buyer has little knowledge about the service. The customer typically can’t judge the quality of service.  Instead, the purchaser exhibits faith in the service provider. Trust is about relationships first and the business transaction second.

For example, when my dentist provides a filling, I have no idea what he is doing or how he does it. I don’t want to know. All I want is for the hole in my teeth to be filled. I want the work done fast and with no pain. I trust my dentist knows what he is doing.

Trust is two-sided. In trust-based businesses, the client trusts, and the service provider is the trusted actor.

“Trust is a paradoxical thing. It requires risk-taking when we’re risk-averse.  It requires doing the opposite of our first instincts,” explains Charles H. Green in “The Trusted Advisor.”

Mr. Green further defines the four essential variables that make up trust-based businesses: credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation.

  • Credibility is the quality of being believable. It has to do with the words we use, and the way we use them. Credibility is all about communications—listening and expressing. “I believe what my dentist says about my teeth. He seems to know what he is talking about and what he is doing.”
  • Reliability has to do with actions.  Trusted service providers know they must be dependable, consistent, use good judgment and be steadfast. I have been going to my dentist for twenty years. “If he says he’ll fill the cavity painlessly, I believe him. He always has in the past.”
  • Intimacy translates into the feeling of safety or security. A quality service provider asks many questions. They have to really know you. I have a lot of confidence in my dentist. I don’t doubt him. He knows what is important to me—fast and pain-free service.
  • Self-orientation refers to the focus of the service provider. The expert listens to the individual client and knows their concerns. The spotlight is on the client. My dentist does not brag. He discusses my condition, not his. He pays attention to me.

Exceptional trust-based businesses have the following qualities in common:

  • Trustworthiness—truthfulness, sincerity, candor, integrity, promise keeping, loyalty, honesty
  • Respect—courtesy, civility, deference’ acceptance, patience
  • Responsibility—diligence, continuous improvement, self-restraint
  • Justice—fairness, impartiality, equity,
  • Caring—kindness, compassion, empathy


The bottom line for trust-based businesses: You have to be an expert in your chosen field. You have to know what you are doing and how to do it.  You need to be current and up-to date.

You must empathize with your clients. As Stephen Covey says, you seek to understand first, then be understood. You communicate effectively. You listen. You unmistakably explain. You offer alternatives and the consequences for each.

You create value for the client. The client will be better off with your service, than without it. It is a tough job.