Trust is the basis of any valuable relationship with friends and family, employees and employers, customers and suppliers, and among partners. You entrust these parties to enrich your life, business, and growth. They entrust you to do the same. Trust is reciprocal. In particular, businesses rely on (a) customers to fund salaries, budgets, and dividends; (b) employees to create what customers need; and (c) partners to deliver what customers need.
Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
This article recommends specific steps for improving trust:
- What’s the state of trust today?
- What exactly is trust?
- Monitor trust of customers, employees, partners
- Monitor performance to value proposition
- Identify intended outcomes
- Set performance standards via expectations personas
- How can you improve trust?
- Start with high-potentials and core-growth
- Guide listening skills
- Shift from a telling to an asking culture
- Be transparent, with accurate information
What’s the state of trust today?
Customers: 68% of consumers say trust is more important to them now and 40% of consumers have stopped buying from a brand they previously loved because they don’t trust the company, according to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust, the New Brand Equity. Nearly two-thirds of customers choose, switch, avoid, or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues. Customers and the media are complaining about “skimpflation“, calling out brands for cutting back on services that once were table stakes.
Employees: Among non-managers, only 45% feel their relationship with their leaders is good, dropping 17 points since 2020, according to Adecco Group’s 2021 study, Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work. Only 33% feel they are getting due recognition for their contributions within the business. 42% say their managers are meeting expectations for supporting their work/life balance, and 37% say their leaders are succeeding at encouraging a good working environment and team culture.
Value: Clearly, value is eroding in the exodus of employees and customers. Knowledge and continuity are walking out the door as employees shift their allegiance. Costs of marketing and sales rise to replace lost customers. Is trust the answer to recuperating at-risk and lost value?
In comparison to distrusted brands, the trusted brands are 7X more likely to command a premium price and they garner a 14% greater purchasing propensity, as reported by Edelman’s 2020 research. Trusted brands benefit from 6X consumer loyalty and are 7X more likely to get consumers to share their personal data with them. They’re 8X more resilient and their stock outperforms its sector by up to 11% in times of crisis.
What exactly is trust?
For customers and employees and partners: The Edelman report says businesses have missed vital cues by failing to monitor trust. Important distinctions exist between:
- Sentiment: a moment-in-time feeling.
- Reputation: characterization by a critical mass of people.
- Trust: a personal orientation towards a company that is manifest in a willingness to take a meaningful risk with that company.
Trust is the foundation of all deep and meaningful personal relationships and gives you the confidence to bet your future on someone. — Edelman
Trustworthiness is not the same as trustability, as asserted by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers in their book, Extreme Trust: Turning Proactive Honesty and Flawless Execution into Long-Term Profits.
- Trustworthy means you behave in accordance with laws and industry norms, with accurate pricing, maintaining quality and reliability, and generally, doing what you say you’ll do.
- Trustability means you proactively do things right and do the right thing. Trustable leaders view each customer/member/donor/taxpayer and employee and partner (i.e. stakeholders, collectively) like a tiny bundle of future cash flow with a memory.
A trustable organization:
- Designs its business model purposely so as to ensure that whatever’s best for the stakeholder is financially better for the organization, overall.
- Follows through on the spirit of what it promises by proactively looking out for its stakeholders’ interests.
- Recognizes that what people say about the brand is far more important than anything the organization says about itself.
- Seeks to ensure that stakeholders want to remain loyal because they know the organization watches out for them and acts in their interest.
- Uses stakeholder analytics to balance its quarterly profits against changes in its stakeholders’ long-term value.
A value proposition is inherent in both formal and informal arrangements between companies and their customers, their employees, and their partners: do X for me and you’ll get Y. Whenever X or Y is misrepresented or changed, trust may be in jeopardy. Any mismatch between X and Y is called the brand-customer gap. It’s also a major contributor to The Great Reshuffle.
Businesses are missing vital cues by failing to monitor performance to the value proposition. I recommend adopting the Experience Value Quotient for CX, EX, and PX (customer, employee, and partner experience), to indicate demerits whenever what’s promised differs from what’s delivered.
The global pandemic has introduced many changes in X and Y in the workplace and the marketplace. Consequently, discontent among workers, customers, and partners has piled on further change and stress. It has highlighted that there’s more to X and Y than money and perks. The value proposition of X and Y revolves around trust that each parties’ intended outcomes will be fulfilled.
Intended outcomes are each party’s reasons for accepting the value proposition. Notably, employees are seeking a better fit with their values and lifestyle, in addition to competitive wages and career advancement, as seen in the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: The Belief-Driven Employee.
These intended outcomes are employees’ Y in the value proposition of “do X for me and you’ll get Y”. The Great Reshuffle reflects workers’ heightened realization of their intended outcomes’ importance in their lives.
What are you doing to uncover the intended outcomes of employees, customers, and partners? Change your listening and data collection to discover and monitor intended outcomes. For example, customers typically say “I was trying to do A, then B happened, and now C is my consequence”. Identifying patterns in these statements is the first step to creating expectations personas.
Expectations personas are different from buyer personas. There are typically 2-4 expectations personas for a brand, and they describe intended outcome, moments of truth, performance standards, show-stoppers, and consequences and costs of missing the mark. For these reasons, expectations personas are meaningful and actionable for every group in your enterprise’s ecosystem. They’re vital to experience excellence among customers, employees, and partners. They’re essential to organizational nimbleness.
How can you improve trust?
Start with high-potential customers’, employees’, and partners’ intended outcomes. You must win and maintain their trust. Your value proposition to them must be more attractive than their alternatives. You depend on them to fuel your growth.
Solve for your top performers and you’ll get more top performers joining, suggests Dan Roth, LinkedIn editor in chief. Rather than worrying about what could go wrong and who might take advantage of flexible options, assume best intentions. He says, “Especially when you let a team come up with their own rules around flexibility and remote structure, the message you’re sending is ‘we trust you,’ and that seems to work really well.”
This holds true for customers and partners, as well. Revisit your policies (external and internal) to assume the best intentions. Instead of trying to please everyone at once, shift your customer experience and partner experience focus to your core-growth customers and partners. When you’ve minimized gaps in your organization’s performance to your core-growth customers’ and partners’ intended outcomes, then you’ve got real momentum in the market and great habits established across your organization. At that point, expand your experience management focus to accommodate additional customers and partners, possibly grooming them toward core-growth impact as well.
Guide managers’ listening skills for stepping up their ability to identify and support their staff’s needs. “46% of managers say they have not found the overall experience of managing other people easy over the past 12 months,” reports Adecco Group’s 2021 study, Resetting Normal: Defining the New Era of Work.
Listen with your ears, eyes, mind, and heart. Listen for intent, and then for content/facts. Listen with purpose, to gain insight into others’ attitudes and emotional states. Listen to clarify and verify the information. Make time in every encounter for quality listening. “One of the greatest advantages of quality listening is that it makes us more empathetic,” explains Dorothy Leeds, author of The 7 Powers of Questions: Secrets to Successful Communication in Life and at Work. The self-assessment in chapter 7 of this book lets you clearly see your listening improvement areas.
“Empathy, or identifying with the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another, is one of the most important ways we have of communicating and forming relationships. Everyone seeks to be understood by other people because understanding brings appreciation.”
Benefits of quality listening include:
- People feel special and cared about (demonstrates respect and value)
- Alerts you to problems or opportunities you did not know existed (opportunities lurk in the most unexpected places)
- Makes you seem more intelligent (when you listen well you ask smarter questions)
- Reduces mistakes (listening carefully prompts you to ask clarifying questions)
For further inspiration about quality listening, resilience, and effective leadership, listen to my recent talk show with Joseph Michelli about his book, Stronger Through Adversity. For tutorials and exercises that build your internal and external skills for effective listening and asking, driving intended outcomes of meeting, and building trust, see my customer-focused communication course.
Shift from a telling to an asking culture in your department and your whole organization. “Only business culture that truly encourages questions can save you from your own mistakes,” says Leeds.
“Questions can have a transforming effect on any organization”, Leeds explains. “Questions can stimulate intellectual growth, turning a stagnant organization . . . into a thinking organization that recognizes and understands trends and changes in time to take full advantage of them. Questions can dramatically improve productivity [with customers] and effectiveness of leaders at any level of an organization, enabling them to train, motivate, guide, and inspire employees to greater heights of achievement.”
- Model the questioning culture (be curious and appreciative about different angles on any topic)
- Build questioning into every business activity
- Build meetings around answering questions rather than imparting information
- Use questions to involve everyone in planning the meeting
- During the meeting, ask more than you tell
- At the end of the meeting, ask post-analysis questions (did we answer what we set out to answer, have any new questions arisen and what are we going to do about them, what is everyone going to do as a result of this meeting, etc.)
- Create multiple platforms for asking and answering questions (intranet, newsletters, “press conferences” with employees rather than reporters, prizes for best questions, etc.)
Insatiable curiosity about customers, employees, and partners is a sign that your organization respects those who are fueling the organization’s growth. The listening and asking habits described above are keys to fully realizing ROI on your VoX (voice of customer, voice of employee, etc.) efforts. Asking better questions, absorbing insights, and applying wisdom in every part of your business will certainly increase relationship strength and growth with customers, employees, and partners.
Be transparent, with accurate information to build and maintain trust. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer announced that our global society is in a “cycle of distrust”. Fake news, bias, and communication missteps by governments and the media have eroded confidence, especially during the global pandemic.
People trust scientists, co-workers, and their CEO to a much greater extent than they do government leaders, journalists, and CEOs in general. At the same time, 63% of people worry that business leaders are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.
Likewise, effective communication between colleagues has worsened in the past year at every managerial level.
In this digital age, transparency is more apparent than we realize. Employees, customers, partners, and the public at large can see through what’s being said. They can discern underhandedness, holding-back, and sugar-coating.
The equation for trust is: (per The Trusted Advisor by Maister, Green, and Galford)
[Credibility + Reliability + Confide-ability] ÷ Self-Orientation
This means that your credibility, reliability, and confide-ability must outweigh your self-orientation. Credibility is the degree that people can trust what you say. Reliability is the extent that people can trust what you do. Confide-ability is the level of safety people feel in discussing things with you. Self-orientation is the opposite of focusing on others’ well-being above your own (do you believe others’ success drives your success?).
For stronger relationships with customers, employees, and partners, managers at every level must improve their information-sharing. Edelman’s regression analysis reveals that businesses can increase trust most by:
- Ensuring information quality
- Holding people accountable
- Communicating with transparency
- Exerting power effectively
- Getting results efficiently
In summary, trust is at the heart of today’s dilemmas with value, employee experience, and customer experience. To strengthen trust, you can take these practical steps:
- Monitor trust and performance to value proposition
- Identify intended outcomes of high-potentials and set performance standards via expectations personas
- Increase listening and asking
- Be transparent, with accurate information
Do you believe trust is the answer to customer experience and employee experience value?
This article is the first in a year-long CustomerThink Advisors series on How Stakeholder Experiences Drive Growth.
Lynn – Trust is an often overlooked component of value. I’m in strong agreement about the critical importance and contribution of trust to perceived value, particularly as a base of emotional connection, in both EX and CX – https://customerthink.com/what-is-the-future-role-of-consumer-trust/. I especially appreciated the depth of support data provided in your post. It’s a tremendous, and well presented, resource.
Thanks for your comment, Michael. I’ve always been a fan of your books, as early as Customer Retention and Customer Winback. Maybe that has something to do with the parallels in our articles. One thing I’m emphasizing is the necessity of non-customer-facing groups’ active involvement in preventing trust risks. A huge stumbling block for companies today is failure to base strategy, values, objectives, policies, promises, and actions on customers’ intended outcomes. When customer insights are used at the outset, rather than as an afterthought or post-activity check-in, executives put the horse before the cart, establishing clarity for employees and higher performance for customers.
I agree that executives’ positioning of customer service as a cost of business is problematic and under-valued. I think it’s dubious, however, to expect customer service to be a profit center, as this is often contributing to trust erosion with customers.
One other cause of distrust is overt engagement efforts. For instance, I just bought a tree for my front yard and the nursery emailed and called before and after they came to plant it for me, answering my questions and providing an easy guide sheet for me to stay on top of watering and fertilizing in the first crucial year. That’s all it took for me to become emotionally engaged, willing to advocate their brand. This is a great example of thinking through customers’ intended outcome (i.e. a beautiful yard without unnecessary costs/effort/worry) and designing their customer-facing and non-customer-facing work to proactively do the right thing and do things right.