So what is the first step to fix these problems with lack of trust and confidence?
The tumble of world financial markets was a confession of lost trust. Could the industry have avoided losing the trust of consumers? Perhaps, but any efforts to fix the problem behind the scenes was either too little or too late to avoid triggering the panic which eventually hit the market.
Now, however, the search is on for scapegoats rather than for real solutions. As was reported in many media this month, the congressional committee investigating the credit crisis immediately singled out Richard Fuld, ex-CEO of Lehman Brothers as a greedy capitalist who continued to request exorbitant executive compensation while his organization collapsed around him. Even CNN has created a list of their “Top 10 Culprits of the Collapse.” This may make great political theatre but it does nothing to address the problem.
The global aspect of the crisis is something that great economic minds are struggling with. We are in uncharted territory. We cannot address the crisis on a macro level but we can address it on an organizational level.
The way out of this crisis is step by step, organization by organization. Each and every organization has a responsibility to ensure that they play a role in rebuilding trust and confidence in the financial sector.
What can an organization do? My career first as an advertising and marketing executive, and lately as an organizational consultant specializing in trust, has provided me with a perspective which is both practical and experienced. Additionally, my doctoral dissertation, The Role and Meaning of Trust in Financial Institutions, provided me with the privilege of listening to the stories of those working in the sector and the investors who rely on the expertise of finance professionals.
First of all, make sure your own house is in order. Do you know whether your customers trust you? It is necessary but not sufficient to simply ask a question about customer satisfaction or loyalty in a survey. First, satisfaction is a rear-view perspective. It asks an existing customer how they found your service after they have completed their transaction with you. It doesn’t speak to whether they intend to return in the future and it certainly doesn’t not speak to the unhappy, dissatisfied or cynical customers whose business you will never know you either lost or never had an opportunity of having. Loyalty questions begin to get closer to issues of trust but they do not tell you what the person is loyal to. Often, the person is loyal to their advisor or banker but not necessarily to the institution. It is critical that you own the customer and to understand how to do that, you need to understand what underlies loyalty.
Loyalty can be an outcome of trust, but isn’t always. Trust is a more fundamental value but in order to know whether you have gained it, you need to break trust down into its component parts to understand how to build back trust. Trust is a complex and multi-dimensional value. We all think we know what it means when we hear the word trust but it is contextually-based and changes under different circumstances. It is also personal and is comprised of both attitudes and behaviours. An instrument designed to specifically measure trust will provide you with the best gauge of how effective your employees are at building trusting relationships within the organization and with your customers. In addition, it is critical that along with other selection tools, that you explore the most fundamental of values- trust. Are you hiring trustworthy individuals. How do you know? Trust is a deep-rooted attitude which takes time to change.
Right now rebuilding and regaining trust is your number one priority. Avoid more wasted messages which may reflect a traditional view of the world but which may no longer resonate with your customers. Product and services marketing will only be effective to the extent that your market believes what you have to say.
Trust is the foundation of every business and without trust you have no possibility of long term success. Your organization’s reputation is one of the most critical bottom line issues over which you have control. Millions of dollars are spent in projecting an image and reputation which communicates confidence, security, trust, reliability and competence. It takes years of hard work to achieve a reputation of trust–yet it takes an incredibly short time to lose this investment. The sooner you begin to repair the damage, the less the impact will be. Putting together your roadmap to regain trust is the only rational reaction to these troubling events. The longer you wait to act, the more difficult a path you will need to follow.