Mon Aug 26 2019 Michael McQueen

Economics professor from Columbia University Joseph Stiglitz once said, “It is trust, more than money, that makes the world go around.” 

Today, this is more true than ever.

While having lunch with the country manager of a large dental supply business recently, I asked about the trends and changes that he was encountering in his corporate world.

“The biggest challenge we’re facing these days is the fact that we can’t get away with anything anymore – even the simplest mistakes,” he said. He explained how mistakes, such as sending products with minor damage to packaging or a shorter shelf life than usual, are now quickly criticized by customers on social media and professional forum groups.

Beyond that, he revealed that dentists now are constantly haggling on price because it is so easy to compare deals with other companies and subsequently demand the best from their suppliers. “It sure is making life tough.”

This dental supplier is not alone in this. While there was once a base assumption of good faith, cordiality and confidentiality in most client interactions, those days are over.

Today, there are 3 reasons trust is getting harder to gain, namely, because we are in:

1. The Age of Skepticism

Consumers today are exceptionally wary of placing their confidence in organizations. And there’s good reason for this.

Consider the litany of ethical missteps that have dominated the news cycle in recent years: 

  • Tesco selling horsemeat dressed up as beef
  • Volkswagen’s ‘dieselgate’ debacle
  • The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook fiasco
  • Boeing’s fatally flawed jets
  • Abuse and institutional cover-ups by Catholic priests, bishops and other authority figures in 'care' institutions
  • Deception and corruption at even the highest levels of banks and financial institutions

The scepticism these various missteps have led to is clear in the numbers.

According to the team at Edelman’s broad and thorough research, just 42% of the general public trust the media, 37% trust CEOs and less than a third trust the government to do what is right. These figures represent a drop of up to 14% in the space of just 3 years – a decline that is unprecedented in the absence of a natural or economic catastrophe. 

2. The Age of Transparency

In this age of transparency, consumers expect and demand openness at every point of interaction with a brand.

Working with a large tyre retailer recently, this theme strongly emerged. One operator explained, “It used to be the case that a customer would walk into one of our stores and ask about the price of tyres for their vehicle. Our store person, standing on the other side of the counter, would enter the model and make into computer software and generate a price. And that was that.”

She went on to explain how customers now are wary of being overcharged and demand to see the screen to ensure they are being charged a fair price.

Examining why building trust in the age of transparency is so challenging, Rachel Botsman in her excellent book Who Can You Trust suggests that the very notion of putting our faith in institutions is untenable in the 21st century.

The realities of this age of transparency mean that the old ways of suppression, secrecy and subterfuge simply don’t work anymore.

3. The Age of Empowerment

Individuals today have unprecedented access to information, an array of options and a platform for making their voice heard. These tools of empowerment cannot be underestimated by leaders and organizations aiming to build trust in the years ahead, as the brand-customer power dynamic is overturned.

There was a time when an individual’s voice was empowered only by word of mouth, which only reached so far. If you were really incensed, you might have written a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, organized a boycott or even contacted the government department concerned with consumer protection. But at the end of the day, the power of a consumer’s voice was dwarfed by the clout and reach of a company’s marketing budget.

Today, online review sites and social media have thoroughly turned the tables. 90% of consumers trust peer reviews while only 14% trust advertisements.

In other words, what you say about yourself and your products matters less than ever, but what your customers say speaks volumes. Taking customers for granted and restricting options or information will never work like it once did.

Further still, a good reputation may take years to build but only minutes to lose, so you must be on your best behaviour at all times, constantly keeping the consumer’s needs and desires front and centre.

In truth, shouldn’t that have been what businesses were doing all along?

In this age of empowerment, transparency and skepticism, building trust is more difficult than ever – but it’s also more important. According to the recent Trends in Customer Trust report released by Salesforce Research, 95 percent of customers are more likely to be loyal to a company they trust and 92 percent are more likely to purchase additional products and services from trusted businesses.

In the words of social entrepreneur and author Bryant McGill, “When trust is lost, everything is lost.” I firmly believe that the opposite is also true: When trust is gained, everything is gained.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

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