Is your organisation threatened by the 'trust flutter'?

19th Apr 2010

Recent research has revealed a disturbing drop in the customer trust organisations enjoy from customers. Jo Thomson explores how this is impacting firms - and how they can respond.

Procter recently commissioned research into the opinions and experiences of senior managers and directors from a variety of industry sectors - with the results revealing serious concerns about a disturbing drop in customer trust.
Conducted by Davies Hickman Partners, the survey unsurprisingly demonstrated that customers have higher expectations than ever before. They are more demanding and have greater choices. People want to deal with organisations that recognise their individual needs and make life easy for them. Multi channel communication choices (email, SMS, internet, social networking, automated IVR, face to face, telephone) are highly valued however an honest, open, adult, professional, two-way dialogue with service providers is valued even more.
To rebuild trust and make it sustainable with customers – senior managers need to be honest with themselves and their people. Leaders in particular are the ones that need to make the effort to be transparent, discuss all the facts and be one step ahead of what their employees find through media.
Trust flutters
There has been a long-term, global decline in the level of trust organisations enjoy from their customers. This is not just lack of trust in banks and finance providers – customer and citizens are increasingly wary of not being treated fairly by all organisations. Many people trust each other more than they do organisations – and rely on peer reviews and comparison websites. This attitude of mis-trust can make dealing with customers more time-consuming and complicated, as they need greater reassurance.
Customers have become much more "unique" in their demands – and expect organisations to care for their differing wants, needs and ambitions – in terms of products and services. This is also fuelled by the level of empowerment given to them by regulation, consumer groups and the media. Today, customers expect personal service and because of the never-ending pressure from workplace, families and friends to do more with less – they want organisations to deliver simpler and speedier resolutions to meet their demands.
And finally, our research showed that over three-quarters of organisations thought that press coverage of financial uncertainties had influenced customers to be more cautious, often resulting in a higher volume of demand for clarification, reassurance, better deals, advice and benefits.
Does declining trust cost organisations?
The biggest challenge seems to be keeping pace with change, especially involving departments in technology and communication, and meeting rising customer expectations in an environment where there is tremendous pressure to balance cost and motivation.
Our interviewees said that if consumers trust organisations they are more likely to be loyal over time and more open to buying their products – increasing overall share of wallet. Many of those people we spoke with are threatened by the "trust flutter" – and even in public sector, governance for budgets is threatened.
The core of an organisation, and where the source of trust comes from is its culture. The measure of trust customers have in an organisation is directly linked to the quality of its talent (its people) and consistent delivery of high standards. There is no quick fix to creating a culture which supports talent and performance, and gives an organisation the reputation for being trustworthy. Over 80% of those interviewed thought that creating a good culture was a complex and long-term task in a large organisation. This complexity is added to by the changing dynamic of the marketplace and customer expectations.  In particular, the three most common cost cutting initiatives our interviewees described were:
  • Reducing 'non essential' expenditure
  • Lean service/ process improvement
  • Driving customers onto self serve

What stands out the most is that across everyone we interviewed – there was little evidence that management practices and cultures had moved on or were being developed to meet customers’ and citizens’ changing needs and expectations, including rebuilding trust. If anything, the opposite was the case with most organisations focused on cost-cutting at the risk of damaging customer relationships.

Strategies for re-building trust

  • Get your house in order - Feedback indicates that while the spotlight is on cost, survival and re-growth, managers take their eye off the ball when it comes to sustaining and developing good culture. Over 80% of interviewees agreed they had pulled back on activities required to build a good culture as a result of the recession. This was predominantly slippage on regular check in’s, coaching and learning. Key to success is building capability through connecting and committing with your people.


  • Build open collaborative organisations - If trust is to be rebuilt and developed with your customer base, then senior managers must rebuild and sustain levels of trust within their own organisations first. Many of those interviewed were beginning to use Web 2.0 techniques to gather views and real-time feedback to assess operational performance, however only a few were driving the same level of collaboration internally for employees. Key to success is:
    - Plugging into your people, regardless of role or position or hierarchy.
    - Ensuring your people match increased expectations by having open, adult, professional, two way dialogue.


  • Delete corporate speak and get real - While there’s a constant swing in the barometer between trust and tension – most interviewees recognise the need and desire to be clear in their communications – both with their people and their customer base.  Many interviewees are even more aware that the best management practices fail to deliver internally because they are communicated both internally and externally using ‘corporate speak’, which does not explain in simple language what is required of individuals. Key to success is being confident that your organisation’s brand values mean something to people and that they’re demonstrated at every point of contact.
  • More and better communication - If we continue to speak in non jargon terms, our interviewees agreed that the goal of rebuilding trust has to start from within. All emphasised the importance of ongoing communication. This was to ensure key messages were understood and also to motivate staff. Although this is possibly the oldest and most hackneyed piece of management advice, our interviewees told us that it was still difficult to get right. In fact, over two thirds acknowledge that their internal communication with colleagues could be improved. Key to success is blending a wide range of new, reinforced and additional communications into daily culture in a positive way – rather than the extremes of bombarding or leaving people in the dark.

Jo Thomson is MD of Procter.


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