I’ve particularly noticed two business trends since the pandemic. First, people aren’t rushing back to work – whether it’s called the Great Resignation or Great Reshuffle, we’re thinking hard about where and why we work. Second, we’ve become more dependent on, and aware of, technology and how it’s shaping narratives in society.
Tech can earn business gains in efficiency and productivity, but there’s no shortcut to earning trust. Fuelled by mistrust in media and government, public trust is declining. There’s an opportunity for businesses to lead in regaining public trust, and I believe they should start with their employees.
Distrust has become the default
The pandemic sparked fears about personal and societal issues. There are existential concerns like climate change and growing worries about personal freedoms and economic security. This anxiety and insecurity make it hard to trust.
The Edelman Trust Barometer surveys 36,000 respondents in 28 countries on their relationship with business, government and the media. The 2022 Barometer shows distrust has become the default, especially distrust of government and media. Who people trust has become more local, like co-workers and neighbors, and distrust of outsiders has risen.
It can transform customer experience at scale like no other tool, but before implementing it, take these actions.
The business of raising trust
Trust has long been weak in media, but the Edelman Trust Barometer showed trust in government has fallen around 25 percent between 2020 and 2022. Trust in business meanwhile stayed at about the same level.
People are looking to business to tackle big issues rather than their governments. It’s an opportunity for business leaders, but not those who picture nothing more than trust-promoting marketing operations and communications ploys.
Only those who lead with high integrity will be able to use the trust gap to build trust in their business.
Cutting through the fake
The public sees CEOs and business leaders with a wary eye. Between 2021 and 22, those who said they worry business leaders are intentionally misleading people went up to 63 percent. Similar concerns about journalists (67 percent) and government leaders (66 percent) have risen too.
Consider your communication strategy in a world where fake news and biased media are normalized. The public radar for fakery and spin is on high alert.
Build trust from the inside out
The Edelman Trust Barometer found employees tend to give credence to their CEO. But what about your employees? It’s worth doing an anonymous internal survey to find out how much they trust your company.
Internally, transparency is an excellent way to earn confidence. Show faith in your employees and give them accurate information about your strategy and intentions.
There are, of course, limits to how transparent businesses can be. You can’t divulge intellectual property secrets or make big announcements before an earnings report as a publicly-traded company. But the way you operate and communicate internally must be consistent with how you want customers and stakeholders to see you.
I call this the ‘inside-out’ model: What goes on at the core radiates out through the value chain. The core is your executive and employees. Moving out from the core are your ambassadors, distributors and suppliers. The next level is customers. Demonstrating consistency over time – from the inside out – will mean greater trust.
Gain trust the old fashioned way: Earning it
I have seen these three leadership attitudes matter when it comes to instilling trust throughout your organization and value chain.
First, when possible, under-promise and over-deliver – for example, in marketing promises, delivery dates and product performance.
Second, have a karmic attitude – giving without expecting anything in return. A transactional approach, based on equal exchange, means no margin for ‘extras,’ and can rapidly decline into an adversarial relationship. A karmic attitude builds up credit.
Marcus Sheridan built a successful swimming pool business by giving away relevant and honest content. Credit is important over the long haul if you need forgiveness for an error. Unexpected things happen, and there are unavoidable, big-picture issues like global supply chains breaking down and wholesale price rises.
Third, bring your company’s purpose to life and ensure it impacts your behavior, language and decision-making. The most important audience is your employees: Ensure they clearly understand and experience the company purpose and vision – many employees say they don’t fully understand theirs.
However, avoid overselling your purpose – it’s better to understand your limits than to promise something you can’t deliver. Strive to live up to what you say. Admit mistakes and be honest about your failings. This will help build trust and engender loyalty.
Overcoming the challenges of tech and trust
As businesses grow, they need more tech to help manage many customers and workflows. Many organizations are starting to use artificial intelligence (AI) to support customer relationship management (CRM,) customer service and eCommerce.
While there are great uses for AI, issues around data privacy, invasive personalization and bias are legion. You need a solid ethical framework to manage these.
Using empathy to understand the employee and customer journey better is vital. And to be trusted, especially with AI, you must have a firm grasp on the outcomes you want. For example, when using chatbots to augment customer service, tell your customers what kind of agent they’re dealing with (bot or not) and be alert to when a human agent must step in to ensure the best customer experience.
There’s no shortcut to building trust. It takes a concerted effort across the organization. If you’ve built a loyal and trusting partnership with your employees and stakeholders, they’ll be your best ambassadors and be more forgiving of your mistakes. Be vigilant when trust starts to erode: Trust is hard-earned and quickly lost.