January of each year sees publication of the Edelman Trust Barometer. It is a fascinating study that shows the degree of trust with which people hold four institutions – government, business, media, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
The report highlights the dramatic reduction in trust in governments, in CEOs as spokespeople for their companies, in banks and other financial institutions. It points to technology companies as the most trusted business sector; it says that companies’ listening to their customers is the primary driver of trust; it speaks to people’s ever-growing trust in a people they see as “like themselves.”
Government’s precipitous fall from grace has left a trust leadership vacuum. Edelman’s interpretation of the results lays out the opportunity to business to take leadership in the general trust-rebuilding process. Of the 16 actions that business can take to build trust, that of “listening to the customer” ranks #1 — alongside delivering high quality products or services.
Listening programs, in which companies construct elaborate systems for tracking and, often, responding to customer feedback, are already in place in many Fortune 500 companies. Yet how often do you see trust as the subject of a question in customer surveys? Rarely, if ever.
Trust, however, may be the most powerful positive emotion a company can reasonably hope to develop in its customers. Trust is a far deeper emotion than satisfaction, for example, and the behaviors trust engenders are, from a brand’s perspective, the Holy Grail of customer loyalty and advocacy. Here’s an older Edelman chart that contrasts the behaviors people exhibit in regard to companies they trust versus those they distrust.
In order to build trust, companies must start by measuring it. That would suggest, at a minimum, they incorporate a trust metric into their primary surveys, including those they deploy online. The sooner that happens, the faster they can understand what aspects of the customer experience undermine trust and which enhance it. Armed with that data, the trust-building process and the benefits it promises can begin in earnest.