Make deposits in the credibility account

As a consultant, I’m conscious of the need to establish and maintain credibility. I need to persuade clients that I understand my craft, know how to meet their needs, and provide a service that’s worth the fees I charge. In turn, each organisation and consultant I encounter needs to establish their credibility with me.

I find it increasingly useful to visualise credibility as something like a bank account. I hold credibility accounts with my clients and the various people I work with. It’s my job to make deposits into that account and ensure the balance is always positive.

When I exceed expectations or demonstrate care for my work, I make a credibility deposit. When I communicate with care, I make another deposit. If I make a mistake or fail to follow through, I make a speedy (and often large) withdrawal.

Credibility accounts are maintained and managed through ongoing interactions with people. They operate at an individual level, and it’s quite possible for a consultant or organisation to have a positive account with one client/customer but be in default with someone else.

When I have no working history with an organisation or individual, they have no credibility account with me. They need to open an account and build some credit before I’ll be willing to work with them. If they attempt to open an account without making a credibility deposit, their account is unlikely to be activated.

It’s when the credibility account is first opened that quality communication is particularly important. Things like customer service, client focus, professional materials, and clear writing matter a lot when I meet an organisation or individual for the first time.

Some months ago, I found a brochure in my letterbox from Urban Utilities. It was designed to let me know that drainage works were about to start in my street. The brochure told me that the work was likely to impact on me in some way – it explained what work might be involved, why workers might need to access my property, and how they would communicate with me in the future.

Urban Utilities already has a credibility account with me – I pay their bills for water supply, I’ve been in touch with them in the past about drainage problems, and they’ve worked in the area before. They added to their credibility account with this brochure: it was professionally produced and well written, giving me confidence that they know what they’re doing. In response to the brochure, I contacted Urban Utilities to talk about the complexities of accessing the drains on my property.

A few weeks ago, I received a second notice about drainage works. This time, the note was on a small piece of paper (an A4 sheet of bond, ripped in half along a straight edge). The note was a poor quality, black and white photocopy. It had a company logo at the top, but for a company I’d never heard of. The date had been written in by hand. The note was written to ‘dear resident’, with no mention of my name, my address, or my street.

The note told me that the company had been engaged by Urban Utilities to complete drainage works in my area. I was asked to contact a specific individual on a mobile number to arrange access to my property.

I ignored this note and I’ve heard nothing further. The company had no existing credibility account with me, and their efforts to open an account failed. Their note gave me no reason to trust them, no reason to believe they could do the job, and no reason to believe that it was anything more than a scam to find out when my house would be unoccupied.

I try to see all communication as an opportunity to build credibility deposits. I’m aware that the best deposits are regular and small. I’m also aware that many small deposits can be quickly wiped out by one mistake.

We live in a time of intense competition and information overload. We all receive constant sales messages and appeals for our attention. The credibility account provides a shortcut for deciding who to trust, listen to, and do business with.