THE COMMUNICATOR It takes an age to build trust and only a moment to ruin it
WHATEVER your business, whatever your career, you need a combination of skills, networking and timing. But above everything else, real success depends on trust. And yet... The Washington Post reported earlier this month that US President Donald Trump has now told a whopping 3,000 documented lies since taking office. And Facebook reluctantly admitted the enormous user data breach from its business with Cambridge Analytica.
And, of course, tragically, here in Ireland, the scandal enveloping the national health service continues to unfold over its decision not to tell women the truth about their Cervical Check smear tests which terminally-ill Vicky Phelan, a former patient, poignantly described as “an appalling breach of trust”.
In a world of post-truth, fake news, alternative facts, data breaches, Russian bots and trolls, we are living in a crisis of trust.
Sure, elected officials may be voted out. An unseemly company may fold, as with Cambridge Analytica. Or top leaders of organisations may step down — as in the case of HSE’S now-former director Tony O’brien.
Yet, what happens when a new leader steps in, and processes remain the same? What if the shuttered company rebrands under a different name, as reports have suggested Cambridge Analytica appears to be doing in the form of Emerdata. What reassurance do customers have?
But first, does trust really matter? Yes, according to a myriad of research and surveys. The Harvard Business Review reports that employees in high-trust companies are more productive and stay with their employees longer. Customers are more loyal. Trust is the basis of any relationship.
So, then, what does it take to establish and maintain trust?
I talked with global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw, who regularly guides large institutions through emergencies. Notably, he served as a spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
“It takes a very long time to develop a brand which people trust. Yet it only takes a moment to bring it down,” he said. “If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it immediately. Even if you don’t have all the facts, it is better to sound contrite or empathetic than unapologetic or insensitive. Just ask the CEO of United Airlines if he’d do things differently after the airline took a terrible PR blow when one of its passengers was dragged off one of its oversold flights — all recorded on smartphones and sent around the world on social media and TV screens. Adopt the mentality that the customer always comes first.”
The people-first mentality or mindset is the key. This past week, I had the privilege of facilitating a three-day cyber-security conference in London. There, Jyrki Rosenberg of host company F-secure, a Helsinki-based global privacy company, said: “Being trusted and trustworthy must become the collective mindset of your organisation from top to bottom.”
Establishing and nurturing an integrated mindset of trust can be divided in three parts: 1 Ethics People must believe in you and your organisation’s motives. They must be convinced that your intentions are good. That your values are grounded and all actions are guided by a moral compass. You must share your common goals and vision purposefully and thoughtfully with your employees and customers. You walk the talk. When you work in an ethical way, you need to do it consistently, when it’s difficult and when no one else is watching. 2 Excellence It’s not enough if we believe your intentions are good, we must also trust that you can deliver. Does your company have the capabilities to provide the proper service, product or solution? This is all about having the abilities to achieve what you say you can do. 3 Empathy This is the willingness, desire and passion to truly try to understand the customers, the people you claim to serve. Whoever they are. As real human beings with hopes, dreams and fears. This is done by creating opportunities for genuine dialogues. Have conversations. Find ways to engage and ask for feedback. Listen. Then act accordingly.
Trust can only be fully demonstrated through the tests of time. And speaking of time, if you lose trust, experts agree that it can be recovered. But it takes time. How much of it depends on the level of severity of the breach and the efforts taken to address the mistake.
Bociurkiw cites the way Starbucks management handled the wave of bad PR from last month’s arrest of two African-american men in one of its stores in Philadelphia.
The men had sat at a table without buying anything, saying they were waiting for friends. The manager called police and the arrests sparked protests.
“Starbucks’ CEO took action immediately, saying their removal was unjustified and this is not the way they treat customers,” said Bociurkiw. He paid a visit to Philadelphia and announced the very bold decision to close more than 8,000 of its US stores on May 29 for racialbias training for all its staff, using credible, outside sources to conduct those trainings. And just last week, Starbucks’ chairman Howard Schultz said all are welcome to use its store washrooms, even if they haven’t bought anything. A great customer-first move!”
For trust to be built or rebuilt, actions always will speak louder than words.