My husband and I recently put a hold on a lot in a new development. It took months of consideration before we agreed that it was the right step. Having spent nearly our entire adult lives in the inner city, the decision to move to a place where there’s more dirt than concrete wasn’t made lightly. If not for the trust in the developer and the quality of the project, we wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Developers know that the decision continuum starts with the development itself, and moves to the lot, builder, and home design—in that order. Objectively, this decision continuum makes sense. It flows from general to specific. It’s like a trust filter that takes you further along the path as you “pass” through each decision making stage. All industries have the same dynamic at play. The “trust filter” goes from general to specific. Does the public trust your sector? How trusted is your organization within that sector? Finally, as a representative of the organization, how trusted are you personally?
If your sector enjoys a high level of public trust (like NGOs) this trust filter works great. But what if you’re in a sector with reduced trust—like the energy industry or financial services? As part of the residual fallout of the global financial crisis, only about fifty percent of the global public trust the people in the folks in financial advisory and asset management, making it among the least trusted sectors in the world. I even have one acquaintance who—for ethical and trust considerations—took all of her money out of investments and bought revenue property. Most people don’t have that level of mistrust in the financial sector, but there may be enough people with enough lingering doubts about financial services to make a rival options such as real estate investment compelling.
How do people and companies in mistrusted sectors go about restoring a shaky level of trust? Here are a few ideas (with acknowledgements to Edelman: Financial Services, Path to Building Trust):
Responsive and responsible service: People expect high quality products and services, but they’re also looking for you to innovate. The balance here is that any innovation should be for the benefit of the client, not for your bottom line. Taking the time to get to know customers, their life goals, and immediate needs—before offering products or services—will go a long way to restoring faith. It goes without saying that high ethical standards and transparency will also generate greater trust.
Reputation matters: Customers will scrutinize corporate rankings, the reputation of top leaders, and the consistency of operations (such as financial returns). Without this kind of top-level credibility, it will be difficult to rebuild trust.
It’s not all about you: Part of rebuilding trust is showing that you’ve got your eye on the bigger picture. Find ways to address social issues in small and large ways, from everyday activities (reducing paper) to partnering with NGOs and other third parties to address pressing social needs. And don’t forget to treat your employs well.
The bottom line? It is possible for whole industries that have fallen out of favour to restore public trust. It takes time and creativity. Like anything, it starts with a willingness to find a new path, to walk it consistently, and to get others to walk it with you.