Keeping your word, in spite of difficulties or changed circumstances, helps to build trust—and trust, in turn, builds credibility. Credibility is what gives substance to individuals and to corporations. At a time when so many newly set up companies, especially in plantations, non-banking finance, education, and construction, have cheated gullible investors, it may be worth reflecting on 'building credibility'.
Many years ago, I was going on a business trip from Mumbai to Frankfurt. I took a 2am flight scheduled to be in Frankfurt by 7am local time to be able to start work by 10am at the latest. I got into the aircraft and promptly dropped off to sleep. I woke up a few hours later and looked out of the window. I imagined the aircraft was on terra firma - and I was confused. From what I knew, this was a non-stop flight. I asked my neighbour if we had made an unscheduled landing en route. No, he assured me, we had not yet left Mumbai. There was a technical snag and the pilot refused to fly the plane unless the matter was set right. We were now scheduled to take off at 5.30am!
For me, Lufthansa meant 'punctuality'. It was an image they had created and protected—backed up by performance. On these very rare occasions when the flight was delayed, I was prepared to excuse them. Because they had built up their credibility over many years—an image of which they could justifiably be proud.
Fifty years ago, I worked in some of the southern cities of India. I had a lot to do with transportation and distribution. It was always said, in the south, that you could check the time on your watch with the passing of the TVS goods carrier! TVS was punctual up to the minute. I do not know whether this is still true but, at that time, TVS had very high credibility.
In his video film Passion for Excellence, Tom Peters talks about Federal Express (FedEx), one of the most consumer-oriented companies in the world. He gives the example of a FedEx courier who could not get messages through because a telephone cable had snapped after a hailstorm. This young man hired a helicopter, waded through knee-deep snow and, against all odds, made sure that the telephone lines were fixed and messages could go through. He was imbued with the FedEx spirit. He did not wait for permissions or delegation. He created the authority for himself, so that FedEx was able to maintain credibility with its customers and remains true to the promise: FedEx delivers on time, every time.
Rank films has an excellent film on salesmanship called Starting the Interview. Director Ian Latimer makes the comment that customers look for four characteristics in a salesman, and the first among them is 'credibility'. He gives examples of salesmen making exaggerated claims and using words such as 'works miracles', astounding success' and 'complete breakthrough', which puts off customers and projects the salesman as unreliable, and possibly even an outright liar.
On the other hand, it helps to build credibility when the salesman (even one who sells an excellent product), at best, offers to help, with perhaps the possibility of success.
There is, of course, the flip side of the coin.
Two gentlemen from Sweden were travelling with me on the early morning flight from Mumbai to Bengaluru. We got talking. How did you like Mumbai? I asked. 'Well, we arrived late last night and took this early morning flight'. 'I am sure you will like Bengaluru. It is a beautiful city,' I said. 'We leave back for Mumbai tonight,' he told me. 'Then you will have a chance to see Mumbai on your way back, 'I said. 'We leave tonight from Mumbai to Sweden,' they told me – and I was surprised. They had travelled all the way from Sweden to Bengaluru in India, just for one day!
It transpired that they had placed a very large purchase order for leather garments from a company in Bengaluru. They had liked the samples and the price was right. They had now come to see that the factory actually exists, with the machinery and the personnel as claimed. Why two of them? So they can pinch each other and reconfirm that this is really true! Was this necessary?
They said five years earlier, they had placed an order with a company from Delhi. They had approved the samples, accepted the price and made a payment in advance. The stocks did not arrive on time or even a month later. When they finally sent a person to track down the company, they found an automobile garage operating at that address. They had never heard of this garment company. This Swedish company, therefore, had a very poor opinion of the credibility of Indian suppliers!
Vinay, who headed a large industrial empire (and was my client), was a very benevolent president. He hated to take any action against any employee, especially if it was for inefficiency. He could be pushed into acting with a firm hand only in cases of proven dishonesty with money. Vinay had somehow forgotten that the basic foundation of good motivation is good discipline. That employees do not mind a tough boss, provided he is fair. The result—the empire was getting peopled by poor performers in key positions and the company was sinking. When Vinay reprimanded anyone strongly for non-performance, they knew that he would not carry out the threat. There was no credibility to the tough postures he occasionally took.
Credibility is what gives substance to individuals and to the corporation. Credibility requires a matching profession and practice. Credibility is helped by the adoption of strong postures—the absence of tall claims and promises. Credibility is built over a long time, because it is a part of a character. Like good reputation, although credibility takes a long time to build, a few months, or just one incident, can destroy it.
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India- FIMC. He was a successful corporate executive for 14 years and then pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books, a business columnist and has been visiting professor in Marketing in the US, Europe, and Asia for over 40 years. His latest books are "Marketing in a Digital/Data World with Brian Almeida and "Customer Value Starvation can kill" with Gautam Mahajan. He now spends most of his time on NGO work and is presently Chairman, Consumer Education and Research Society, India)