Trust touches every area of business. It’s the currency that makes business go round; whether it’s trust between customers and brands, leaders and teams, or between team members. Reputable and trusted brands benefit from customer loyalty and retention and consistently outperform organizations plagued with a trust deficiency. Similarly, trust between leaders and teams as well as team members is the foundational base of effective teamwork, cooperation, and collaboration. Organizations that are grounded in these pillars are free to be more creative and innovative, thus improving overall business performance. Trust relationships are vital to the conduct of business. Therefore, trust is the glue that keeps positive customer and interpersonal relationships working.
The recent global pandemic, however, has drawn attention to trust vulnerabilities between customers and service providers as well as between leaders and teams. Customer loyalty, trust, and confidence have been put to test and continue to be a challenge as organizations experiment and design new ways of doing business in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment. Customers are not only skeptical about the service providers, but they’re also concerned about the social, political, and economic factors of business. Since 2019, reports suggest that a significant number of customers feel a diminished level of trust with their preferred brands. For business owners, a lack of trust is their biggest expense. Without trust, transactions can’t occur, influence is destroyed, leaders can lose teams and salespeople can lose sales.
Internally, the decrease in trust largely parallels the same phenomenon between leaders and their teams and between team members. In the wake of the pandemic, many organizations, especially small business, were forced to make difficult and abrupt changes, such as reducing payrolls or reducing the number of hours employees work. Despite the necessity, if such volatility isn’t well managed, it can cause an erosion of organizational trust. Though the switch to remote and hybrid work environments have become the norm and quite successful as organizations report increase in team productivity, the results are not all positive. In some organizations, trust levels between leaders and employees have gone down because managers question whether their teams are working efficiently and performing well in the absence of the typical workplace supervision. Alternatively, in some instances employees feel that leaders aren’t communicating as frequently or effectively as they should and there is the natural fear of being left out or fear of missing out (FOMO). In this article, I address trust matters and how to build or rebuild trust from two points of views:
- Customers and Brands
- Leadership and Teams
Customers and Brands
According to 2021 research performed by Salesforce.com, 82% of consumers agree that a company’s trustworthiness matters more than it did in 2020. People want to do business with brands they can depend on. Further, 61% of customers say it’s difficult for a company to earn their trust – seven percentage points higher than the previous year. The research shows that customers have lost trust with service providers for reasons that include poor customer service during the pandemic, misuse of personal information, and incessant advertising. This trajectory can’t remain because there is a direct correlation between low levels of trust and decreased profits. Regardless of the global health crisis, organizations must not lose sight of the fact that they are in business because of customers and that meeting customer needs comes first. It’s inevitable that there will be hurdles attributable to transitions and uncertainty, but brands that turn their back on building and maintaining customer trust will undoubtedly see customers take their business elsewhere.
What can organizations do to build or rebuild customer trust?
It’s important to emphasize that customers are the lifeblood of an organization. An organization can have the right talent, the most innovative products and services, and efficient processes, but if it doesn’t acquire and retain the right customers, long-term survival is unlikely. It’s naturally in the organization’s best interest to ensure consistently positive customer experiences and establish and maintain solid customer relationships. Trust is essential to this strategy.
Given the importance of trust to long-term business success, how can organizations build or rebuild a culture of trust with their customers. I also want to emphasize that during a crisis not everything will work efficiently when it comes to customer relations. Genuine errors can happen as organizations are working through unplanned change and uncertainty. With that in mind, below are a few approaches that can help organizations increase or recapture customer trust:
Purpose and Values
Customers engage with certain brands because of the organization’s purpose and values. They expect brands to share their values and communicate openly and honestly. Therefore, service providers must remember to be consistent with this, especially if they’re changing the products and services they offer. Recent research by Salesforce.com reports that 71% of customers pay more attention to corporate values than they did even just a year ago. Compromising organizational purpose and values is a risky proposition. It doesn’t mean that organizations need to fear a necessary pivot, but if doing so, the pivot must consider how the changes will align with their customer’s values while still making business sense.
It’s critical that organizations be honest with their customers. From individual customer interactions to making strategic decisions that affect customer relations in a significant way, there’s never been a more critical time for organizations to know their customer and relate to what they’re experiencing. Customers want organizations to relate to their specific needs and expectations at every touch point, and one of those expectations is for transparency. For example, if you know a customer’s order was delayed because there was a glitch in the order system, own that and make it right with the customer(s). Similarly, as we’ve seen in several cases this year, if there has been a customer data breach, by all means take accountability and assure the customer of what actions you are taking to mitigate the risk. If the resolution to that breach is still forthcoming, it’s imperative to be truthful and inform customers of when the situation is likely to be resolved. Brands that understand truth-telling and invest in appreciating their customers through upfront and open communication can gain a competitive advantage that helps further the goal of earning customer trust.
How can leaders rebuild trust with employees?
During a crisis, leaders often make tough and, in some cases, hasty decisions as they charter unfamiliar territory in conducting business. In many instances, the abrupt changes result in trust deficiencies within an organization. And as organizations begin to establish themselves in the new era of hybrid and remote work, there is now a great opportunity to rebuild and solidify trust with their team members. Below are a few tools for how leaders can regenerate employee trust in times of financial or organizational turmoil:
In a similar vein as truth-telling with external customers, effective internal communication between leaders and teams can also help build or rebuild trust. If we consider top-down communication, there are three components of this that leaders can leverage to raise internal trust levels. First, leaders must demonstrate the ability to openly share information with their teams. The business world is rapidly changing, and employees need timely information from their leadership on how these changes will affecting them professionally and personally. Change cannot be effectively implemented without relaying vital information; whether it’s done in-person or through written communication such as memos, e-mails, and other online information-sharing platforms.
Secondly, leaders need to tell their employees the truth at all times, no matter how difficult the news may be. Even if it means admitting mistakes, this should be done in a transparent manner to inform assure team members of how these mistakes will be corrected. As stipulated above, in a crisis mistakes are bound to happen because decisions are often made based on limited information or a lack of full understanding of the situation at the onset. Therefore, it becomes difficult to find the right answers for all questions and problems as they arise. Nevertheless, leaders should never try to cover the mistakes but should instead lead from the front by demonstrating accountability and responsibility.
Lastly leaders must give and receive feedback. With ever-changing marketplace conditions and the new norm of remote or hybrid work, it’s a great idea to solicit employee feedback on how they believe you handled various changes over the last 18 months and what their professional and personal experiences were like as a result. Furthermore, be willing to allow team members to offer ideas about the future and how things may work better. This information can be gathered through employee surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews. Team members want to work in a culture where employees can fully express themselves without fear of intimidation or reprisal. Most importantly, once you have received the feedback, act on it to build credibility and show that their concerns were heard. For matters that can’t be changed, communicate the reasons forthrightly, and at the very least, convey why they can’t be changed at the present time.
More information can be shared on trust in business, but to conclude this article, I would like to emphasize that as leaders and organizations, we can’t underestimate the power of trust. Where there is an absence of or diminished trust levels, serious risk to damaged customer and employee relationships exist. If you’re not aware of how your team feels about organizational trust matters, I encourage you to start the conversation by simply asking them if they believe you have a trust culture. Genuine trust yields decreased stress, solid friendships, and long-term loyalty and satisfaction.
For more information, contact Dr. Mary Ritz.