It's a reasonable bet that very few customers would want to pay $25 a month for AOL's dial-up ISP subscription - a subscription they don't need and never use, and that they don't really know they're paying for. And most likely no one would actually want to incur NSF (insufficient funds) charges by accident. There may be times a person would choose to incur such fees, and (who knows?) some people might simply choose to pay for dial-up service just so they can say they do, but on the whole, we don't think we're going too far out on a limb by suggesting that these are not examples of companies proactively protecting their customers' interests.
Once we dispense with such obvious examples of untrustability, however, we will find that the task of acting in the interest of a customer is considerably more complex. Obviously, since I can't be any more certain of your motives and interests than you are of mine, it's possible my company might not respect your needs simply because I don't fully understand what your needs are. How can any company genuinely know what's in the best interest of a particular customer when customers clearly have different tastes and preferences?
Even though no company can ever be certain what's in any particular customer's mind, companies today do have much more capable technologies for analyzing their customers' needs and protecting their interests. Sometimes, all that's required is for a company to use its own processes to help a customer avoid a costly and preventable mistake. Peapod, the online grocery service, for instance, has software that will check with you about a likely typo before you buy something highly unusual ("Do you really want to buy 120 lemons?").
And the best companies are also using their greatly improved IT capabilities to do a better job of remembering their customers' individual needs and preferences. A trustable company will remember what it learns about each customer, becoming smarter and more insightful over time, and then using this insight to create a better customer experience. Sometimes, all that's required is for a company to use its own database of past customer transactions for the customer's benefit. If you order a book from Amazon that you already bought from them, they will remind you before they process your order.
Same with iTunes. These are examples of genuinely trustable behavior. In each case, the company's database gives it a memory that can sometimes be superior to the customer's memory. It would not be cheating for Amazon or iTunes simply to accept your money, thank you very much. God knows, Mr. AOL and Mr. Bank certainly would. Rather than using their superior, computer-powered memory to take advantage of the customer, however, Amazon and iTunes use it to do the right thing.
And note that "the right thing" to do, at least in this case, is mutually beneficial. Even as Amazon offers you the chance to opt out of a purchase you've already made, they also reduce the likelihood that you'll receive the book, realize you already have it, and return it. And when iTunes warns you you're about to duplicate a song you already own, they are making it less likely they'll have to execute a labor-intensive and costly refund process, or that you'll think badly of them aloud on Twitter. This is exactly how "reciprocity" is supposed to work--as a win-win.
Ironic--isn't it?--that some banks use their customer databases and analytics tools to craft highly sophisticated pictures of their customers' and prospects' value, profitability, and credit risk and then bombard them with two billion credit card solicitations every year. Why don't more of them do what Royal Bank of Canada has done? RBC uses its superior insight to extend automatic overdraft protection (with no fee!) to low-risk customers (that is, most customers). That way, the customer gets a break--and so does the bank; instead of having to pay a service rep to handle a call from a reliable customer who demands the fee be rescinded, the bank chooses instead to send a note explaining "this one's on us" and how to avoid this in the future, reducing their own costs in the process. Rather than incurring costs and resentment, and then netting no fee anyway, the bank saves the costs, builds goodwill, and then nets no fee. During the first ten years after instituting this approach, RBC increased per-customer profitability by 13 percent.
Excerpt from the upcoming book Extreme Trust: Honesty as a Competitive Advantage, by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D.