Consumers, employees and governments are all looking on business leaders with suspicion in the wake of failed U. S. banks, the AIG debacle, auto companies that can no longer make a buck and calls for bailouts from firms across the Western world. Every day, consumers watch, hear and read stories about today’s difficult times that raise doubts about the integrity of businesses. And there are countless difficult conversations taking place between companies, their customers and employees who together have to find new ways of working together.
At the same time, business leaders need to ensure they find ways to measure and sustain the trust that is essential to building sustainable enterprises.
Step one is to make sure their own house is in order. Do their customers trust their business? What about their employees? Research has demonstrated there is a direct link between how employees feel about their employer and the way in which they deliver customer service. Employees who doubt the integrity or ability of their organization to cope with challenges will deliver poor customer service.
The strategy most organizations use to assess trust levels is to conduct a customer satisfaction survey. While these surveys are necessary, it is not a sufficient measure.
There are three reasons why:
* First, satisfaction takes a rear-view perspective and is transaction-based. It asks an existing customer how they found your service after they completed their transaction with you.
It doesn’t speak to whether they intend to return in the future and it certainly doesn’t speak to the unhappy, dissatisfied or cynical customer whose business you will never know you lost or never had an opportunity of having.
Second, satisfaction is but one element of a trusting relationship. Trust is deep, lasting and relationship-based. It takes time to build and, once damaged, is difficult if not impossible to recover.
Third, while loyalty questions begin to get closer to issues of trust they don’t reveal what the person is loyal to. Often, the person is loyal to their contact at a firm but not necessarily to the firm itself. It is critical that a business own its customer and to understand how to do that, they need to understand what underlies loyalty. An institution is too vulnerable if trust resides only with select employees. When they leave, customers leave.
Most business leaders think they know what it means when they hear the word trust, but it is contextually based and changes under different circumstances. It is also personal and comprises both attitudes and behaviours. It is important that leaders use a survey instrument designed to specifically measure trust.
What are the steps a company must take? – Survey customers about their trust in the organization and its employees. It is important to establish a benchmark that managers can compare against later. – Survey employees. It is important to know how they feel about the organization and their experiences with customers. – Examine strategies and programs against the survey results. If found wanting, make adjustments. – Make sure internal communications and external communications are aligned with the trust message. The customer must see continuity between what a firm says it will do for them and what they experience when interacting with its employees. Any discontinuity in this area will hurt your integrity. – Make changes and remeasure in six months. There must be a positive shift in attitudes by both employees and customers. If not, continue to make adjustments until trust scores improve.
It takes years of hard work to achieve a reputation of trust — yet it takes an incredibly short time to lose this asset. The sooner companies begin to repair any damage that may exist, the sooner they will have their business on a secure footing for the future.
Deborah Nixon, PhD, is the president of Trust Learning Solutions, which helps companies elevate trust levels to accelerate sales cycles, lower costs and increase profitability.