Divisive politics, cybercrime, scams targeting the elderly and unscrupulous business practices by the few have fueled a trend of growing mistrust among American consumers. “Caution” is perhaps the word of the day, as product and service seekers Google voraciously, seeking reviews and assurances that the company they’re considering is on the up and up.

While all of this may sound like an obstacle to brand success, it actually presents an opportunity as well. Buyers are engaged, and forward-thinking PMPs are leveraging their evolving behaviors and expectations to delight their customers at every turn. Building trust in your brand is simply a matter of knowing your audience and providing what they want.

“I don’t know if consumers are less trusting or just feeling more empowered in recent years,” says Cindy Mannes, executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA), the public outreach arm of the National Pest Management Association. “We certainly see them using the many tools available to help them research, compare and investigate brands before selecting a pest control company.”

Rollins embraces these new buyer behaviors and looks to push the limits of innovation further. “We continually strengthen Orkin and our other brands by looking at some of the world’s most successful service companies — food-service businesses, ride services and others that are setting the bar — and identifying ways to adapt our strategies to better align with the needs of today’s customers,” says Kevin Smith, chief marketing officer for Rollins. “Our industry needs to be tech-savvy and harness tools that make it even easier for customers to do business with us, and to connect with upcoming generations through the channels they prefer.”

Joey Harris, COO of Cook’s Pest Control, and Stacy O’Reilly, owner of Plunkett’s Pest Control, also recommend remembering and re-emphasizing your roots: the principles that helped you establish your brand reputation in the first place.

“We have proactively addressed the issue of mistrustful attitudes for decades,” Harris says, noting the company’s tagline, “The South’s most trusted name in pest control,” drives home the company’s commitment to trustworthiness. “We’ve overcome any doubt by staying focused on the words of our late owner John R. Cook Sr.: ‘Do the job right the first time. Do what you promised, plus a little more.’ We’ve built a positive reputation on doing the right thing.”

O’Reilly says she has built Plunkett’s on keeping promises, too. “Building brand loyalty means promising only what you know you can deliver. Don’t overpromise and offer same-day service, for example, if you can’t do it 100 percent of the time.”

EMPLOYEES’ VITAL ROLES. “Brand” has been defined in many ways. Renowned author and marketing expert Seth Godin perhaps said it best: “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Ideally, your brand reflects your company’s core values and most positive characteristics.

That’s why so many PMPs place hiring, onboarding and training at the top of their brand-building to-do lists. They realize every action of every person on the team weighs into brand perceptions. Every person you hire is an ambassador for your brand, and their competence, commitment, interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities and performance under pressure all play a role in the customer experience and how your brand is perceived. Whether they’re out in the field or on the phone, employees are your brand’s front line.

“When we interview prospective employees, we look for honesty, integrity, positivity and personal accountability,” says Harris. He also recognizes the importance of a supportive culture. “Those we hire find out that we truly live by our company values and mission statement. Throughout their careers, they are rewarded for adhering to those values — for doing the right thing.”

Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators also recognizes the importance of choosing candidates whose values align with the corporate culture. New employee training begins with a presentation focused on Arrow’s history and culture, says Lauren Bullington, director of marketing.

“We tell the story of how the business started in 1964, in the back of a beauty parlor, and then remained in the family through the decades, growing to become the business we are today, with 1,700 team members and 98 service centers,” Bullington says. “Sharing the back story helps employees understand that, regardless of its size, Arrow continues to be a family- and community-focused organization.”

Mike Malone, senior vice president of marketing and inside sales at Arrow, adds, “We instill in employees the philosophy that when you treat customers well, they will continue coming back. And we recognize that when the leaders of our company show genuine care for our team members, it motivates them to have even more passion for their work.”

That passion is also fueled by what Malone calls “a constant push on training,” including Arrow’s new initiative, “Owning the Moment.” Employees are empowered and encouraged to go above and beyond in every touchpoint with the customer.

A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE. Training employees to conduct themselves in accordance with your brand is the first step in building trust through positive customer experiences. The second part of that is keeping tabs on what customers are saying about how your team is performing.

Smith says that Orkin has been using Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for the past 10 years to gauge how well technicians are fulfilling customers’ expectations and delivering on the brand promise. “We review our NPS every morning. If customers are saying they would recommend us to friends, family or colleagues, then we know these ‘promoters’ had a positive experience. When we run into ‘detractors’ — those who would not recommend us — we drill down to the route level to see why this might have occurred and resolve any issues that might remain,” he explains.

Online reviews and social media conversations also offer an opportunity to monitor customer experiences toward your brand. On view for all to see, these reviews can make a true impact, positively or negatively. Managing them appropriately is key.

“When a consumer uses social media as a tool to report a bad experience or hold your company accountable for a bad service or action, you realize how important it is to have a solid communications plan in place. How you handle yourself in these situations is critical to how others will view your brand,” says Mannes.

According to Smith, Orkin uses negative reviews as teaching moments during meetings and coaching sessions. O’Reilly adds that prompt, succinct responses to negative reviews and comments can help you maintain your brand integrity.

She shares, “We might have 3,000 interactions with clients in a day, but if one of those is unsatisfactory, we know that’s the one we’ll hear about on social media. When that one mistake happens, we have to own it, respond to it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If a comment is made that’s untrue, we respond quickly, professionally, calmly and concisely, because the worst thing you can do is leave that one-sided story out there unanswered.”

FRESH APPROACH TO MARKETING. Speaking the language of your target audiences, through the channels they prefer, is pivotal to gaining and maintaining their trust. So, as baby boomers and Gen Xers continue to make way for millennials, many PMPs are leveraging new tools in their marketing and communication efforts. Traditional broadcast and print advertising, and direct-mail and door-hanger campaigns are being supplemented by digital ads, eblasts, social media communications and websites that offer online scheduling, billing and payment options.

Social media is an area growing quickly among pest management marketers. In addition to reacting to reviews and comments from customers posted on social media, PMPs are using social media outlets proactively. “Social media can be great because it’s a transparent and open platform for engaging and interacting with customers. It can be used to share news and communicate key messages, and it also gives you an opportunity to develop your brand voice and personality, and have real interactions with customers in real time,” says Mannes.

The back-and-forth communication that takes place on social media can form the basis for building lasting relationships. And since millennials in general aren’t big on face-to-face or voice contact, when you offer them online scheduling and payment, and send electronic reports in lieu of a discussion, your brand is more likely to resonate with them.

“Millennials are challenging us like no generation before,” says Smith. “When we consider how to connect with this group, we think mobile first. For example, where we have traditionally had our technicians speak face-to-face with a homeowner, or leave a note at the door if no one was home, we recognize that we need to offer a new mechanism for communicating with our younger clientele: text, email — maybe even Snapchat, which would enable the technician to share a view of the trouble spots located during the service call. Technology will continue to grow in importance across our communication efforts.”

While it’s true that technology is important, the softer side of marketing — community outreach, for example — continues to be key to building brand trust and loyalty, too. Arrow Exterminators participates in holiday parades, charity walks and other community events on a regular basis. “We recently participated in a Special Olympics event, and received the nicest note from a customer whose daughter is an athlete in the program. We shared it with everyone,” says Bullington. “These small moments bring our community and our employees together in a way nothing else can.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.