Trust is a most fragile brand value

In our current marketplace, trust is not enough to win you customers.  You have many trustworthy competitors.

However, the slightest chink in your “trust-armour” can lose you customers.  Here’s an example:

I have been a loyal customer of Orbitz for a number of years, creating a near-reflexive habit of going to when I need to book travel.  Each time I use Orbitz I am offered the chance to click a box and purchase travel insurance, which I never do.

I noticed three travel insurance charges on my credit card bill, related to three international reservations I had booked. When I called Orbitz they said it was too late to remove these charges since the travel dates had passed.  “But I never selected travel insurance” did not seem to be a plausible objection to them.

With the agent on the phone I walked through a couple of “mock” reservations, and learned that for international reservations travel insurance is pre-selected, and you need to opt-out if you don’t want it.

What a bait and switch.  For years I’ve been given the choice on Orbitz whether I want travel insurance, and then they sneak it in when I book international tickets.  My brand impression of Orbitz changed immeditately.  It went from “hassle-free/always-works/I-can-count-on-them” to “I better keep my eyes open from now on because they will try to take money from me when I am not looking.” We went from a We relationship to a definite Us & Them relationship.

Don’t ever be tempted to sneak something by your valuable customers.  For about $100 Orbitz lost most of the trust I had in them.  Making money in this way is a great example of “bad profits.”


  • Judith Ellis
    Oct 29, 2009 - 10:29 am

    Oh, that’s just awful, Steve! I so agree with your “bad profits” statement. This will probably become an outright negative over time. Your story reminds of credit card companies who are increasing the interest rates to some 30% of customers who have paid on time every month for many years. The relationship definitely becomes antagonistic and probably at the first opportunity credit card holders will go elsewhere or pay with cash if they can. This is what I’m hoping at least. I’m not sure if we always realize the effect of our actions which sometimes are not seen immediately and because of this we go on doing what isn’t right. But often times this catches up with us.

    It reminds of another recent story of a pastor who allowed one wealthy member to buy her expensive gifts of some $10,000 in the name of love and giving. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” (It’s funny that the gifts mainly flow one way.) I believe in this scripture but despise manipulation. The member had been giving smaller “love” offerings for some time along with her 10% tithes, the percentage of her earnings. This was quite sizeable. But these things weren’t good enough for the pastor. She accepted that outrageous gift. When the husband heard of it he demanded the “gifts” back and demanded that his wife leave the church. The gifts were returned and she and her tithes have not been back.

    Distrust in leadership hurts the intended message of the church and perhaps shakes the faith of others. It is the talk of the church and this can’t be good for this congregation. The same is true of business. If you’re wondering what this has to do with business, many churches, perhaps other places of worship too, have become like businesses. The “billable service” is the ministry. This story has much to do with trust. It seems that the husband never trusted the church anyway as he visited occasionally but never became a member. There is also something so ugly about underhandedness and craftiness that is so despicable when such trust is breached, not to mention that many people separate themselves when trust has be breached. There is definitely no We there.

    Here is yet another recent relevant experience I had with the water department. I called the City recently as my billed had tripled and I live alone. I was told that it’s probably because of the summer months, watering the grass and all. But it had been a rather mild summer and the grass hadn’t been watered nearly as much this past summer as the summer before.

    When I mentioned that the summer had been a cool one there was a long pause and the clerk said, “Yeah, that’s right.” I wondered if other people had called to complain about the same thing. She then said, “Check the meter and let’s see if you have a leak.” She walked me through the process and there were no leaks. I don’t know why the bill increased so drastically and such is difficult to tell, simply by reading the meter. What I thought for sure was that my usage had not changed drastically. But maybe it had. Perhaps, I’m just not entirely trusting of government anyway. This is a problem. No We relationship there. The problem is that I can’t walk away from the water department.

    By the way, I can see Larry David of the HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” writing a script about your story above. Oh my, he would have a lot of fun with that one. Great post, Steve! Thanks.

  • Brad Haan
    Oct 29, 2009 - 11:09 am

    Hey Steve,

    Your experience also points out the new, great marketing phenom: Viral Marketing. Companies need to realize that these huge mistakes made for incremental dollar charges lays them wide open for all of us to begin the sharing process.

    Orbitz didn’t just lose your trust over that small dollar charge. They lost mine. And whoever else in my friend-group. They lost everyone who reads your blog, and trust YOU. And their friends.

    I don’t have time to examine your situation with them. But I have known you for 35 years. (Gawd, that’s a trip, right there!) With Priceline, CheapTickets, Travelocity, etc. right there to take over, why waste my time even thinking about Orbitz?

    Then, once they realize their error in judgement, how long does that take to fix and heal? I dunno about you, but I won’t even be looking to see if they fixed it. All I am going to remember in my finite, little brain (which makes all my purchasing decisions 😉 ) is to never use Orbitz.

    Now, moving right along, what were we talking about?

  • Judith Ellis
    Oct 29, 2009 - 13:34 pm

    “Orbitz didn’t just lose your trust over that small dollar charge. They lost mine. And whoever else in my friend-group. They lost everyone who reads your blog, and trust YOU. And their friends.”

    This is so very true!

  • Steve Yastrow
    Oct 30, 2009 - 00:27 am

    Judith and Brad,

    Thanks for the comments. I agree with everything, except for one thing: Brad, it’s wishful thinking to think we’re young enough that we’ve only known each other for 35 years. I think it’s more like 40!

  • Brad Haan
    Oct 30, 2009 - 11:13 am


  • Brad Haan
    Oct 30, 2009 - 11:14 am

    Now you’re trying to Viral me!

  • Larry Kaufman
    Oct 30, 2009 - 12:25 pm

    As previous comments have pointed out, Orbitz not only lost YOUR trust, but that of the readers of the blog, and those to whom they forward it.

    But nobody has explicitly stated that the loss of trust is followed by the loss of business…sort of the converse of putting your money where your mouth is, in this instance, not putting it there.

    I can’t take my own business away from Orbitz, because I don’t shop there anyway. But I have stopped buying the Sun-Times because I got pissed at one of their columnists, I have stopped shopping at Whole Foods because their CEO spouted off anti-healthcare reform, etc.

    Trader Joe, Tribune, Travelocity — here I come.

  • Shelly Coffman
    May 07, 2010 - 15:09 pm

    I am an investigator with the law firm of David P. Meyer & Associates. We are investigating a potential case against a major online travel site regarding alleged charges to consumers for travel insurance without their full knowledge. If you would be willing to assist in our investigation or would like more information about this case, please call me at 1-866-827-6537.

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