If you’re a plumber (or an electrician, an HVAC/R tech, or even a car mechanic for that matter), you’ve probably experienced some variety of this scenario: you’ve assessed the problem and you’re trying to explain to your customer what it is and what it will take to get things fixed. And they’re nodding along with you as you talk, but there’s a troubled look on their face… as if they were performing some important calculation in their heads.
Part of it may be a struggle to understand, and part may be financial anxiety, but, over and above that, they are trying to answer for themselves the question, “do I trust this person and the things they are telling me?”
Experts get to be experts because of their expertise. They know things other people don’t, possess skills other people lack, and so people pay for that knowledge and skill. But that same expertise creates a gap between the expert and their customer, a leap of faith that, ultimately, can only be bridged by trust.
Ken Sinclair, the publisher of the AutomatedBuildings.com website, writes a regular editorial for our Connected Contractor newsletter. In his latest, Building Communities of Trust, he writes, “Trust is the new currency, a commodity we need to create as part of our remote renaissance.” (You can read his full article online at www.contractormag.com/iot.)
Trust can certainly be seen as a commodity, and one that’s becoming harder to come by with every passing day. Plumbers, unfortunately, have to overcome at least some level of mistrust on most residential repair calls. But these days it seems like trust in experts of all types is at low ebb. Even now, with a deadly pandemic still raging in parts of the country, huge numbers of Americans refuse to trust the experts in epidemiology at the CDC.
Part of this stems from a lack of faith, not just in experts, but in institutions. If the government lies to you about one thing, why wouldn’t they lie about another? If a media outlet shades the truth in support of a false narrative, why believe anything they publish?
Part also stems from the incredible amounts of information our new Internet age allows access to. That access leads a lot of people to believe that anyone can become an expert in anything if they just spend some time on Google. Where, almost inevitably, they pick and choose only those facts that support the convictions they already hold. Which is only human nature. We all want those things we believe to also be true.
Now, this does no great damage when someone, say, finds a YouTube video that tells them how to replace the flapper on their toilet. But then someone “educates themselves” online and decides to install their own boiler—and an entire family dies of carbon monoxide poisoning.
As any master plumber will tell you, real expertise only comes from experience. Not a weekend spent online, but years spent on the job, working with the tools, techniques and equipment; years spent studying, training, and ultimately teaching the trade to others.
I think communicating that journey of experience is the real key to building trust. If you’re a third-generation plumber, let the customer know. If you’ve seen a case before just like the one in front of you, talk about how you solved it. If you’ve trained on a piece of technology, let the customer know when you recommend installing it. If you’re just starting out in the business let them know and tell them why you chose the profession. Get reviews and testimonials up on your website. Tell your story.
People may not trust institutions or even individual professions much these days, but people still trust—still need to trust—other people.