Trust Flutters: What Price Is Trust?

Declining trust among consumers and citizens for many private and public organisations is a key trend as the economic and political situation changes. What is more, the ‘hardball’ cost cutting strategies of some organisations are likely to increase the challenge just at the time when relationships need re-building.

Organisations can achieve the best relationships with their customers by taking advantage of opportunities to adopt a collaborative, open culture, with the appropriate corporate language and the right communication strategies in place. That’s the outcome of work we completed for Procter.

Changing customer behaviours

Over 75% of the organisations say that the power balance between themselves and their customers is changing

Customers have higher expectations than ever before. They are more demanding and have greater choices. People want to deal with organisations that recognise their individual needs and make life easy for them. Multichannel communication choices are highly valued – however, an honest, open, adult, professional, two-way dialogue with service providers is valued even more.

Most organisations think the media has caused unnecessary panic among consumers and citizens. Fluctuating levels of consumer trust have resulted in higher call volumes and (if available) branch visits for nearly all the financial services organisations. Managers recognise the role of trust in customer loyalty, cross-selling and word of mouth recommendations. In the public sector, citizen trust has remained more stable and is now a key performance measure for civil servants, the police and professionals in the health service.

Our research shows that organisations self-rate themselves to perform worse on public trust compared with 4 other key criteria (sales performance, customer service, low costs of operation and employee satisfaction)

Organisations are aware that the power base is changing. Their customers want increasing reassurance, are more willing to challenge organisations’ decisions, and want to negotiate with them more.

Lean service and ‘back to basics’ strategies are on the day-to-day agenda for many organisations. The recession is forcing management to focus more and more on short-term cost-cutting. Of the organisations we interviewed, 9 out of 10 were implementing efficiency and cost-cutting measures. When tough strategic decisions are made about costs, there can be dangers. Our research found some success stories as a result of improving processes and reassigning workforces. But some organisations expressed concerns that the messages and impact of cost-cutting are damaging front-line customer relationships. Others raised concerns about the impact of cost savings on critical management practices. Some thought the cost-saving techniques were negatively affecting the trust and culture in their organisations – just when it needs to be rebuilt.

Recommendations for rebuilding trust through service delivery

Our research highlights that most of the measures adopted by organisations are not addressing the unstable and costly mistrust that customers are feeling. The report identifies how organisations can improve profits by maximising internal capability and culture to improve the ‘trust’ aspect of the relationship with consumers and citizens.

Our research found that during these uncertain times, a ‘Trust Flutter’ exists – trust is unstable. There is an implied lack of trust due to inconsistent messages, standards and performances. Organisations have been fast to cut costs responding to explicit financial uncertainty but are slower to address the lack of trust contained in the customer relationship. The lack of trust is not going away, and denying it exists is only going to increase the impact on the bottom line.

Top ten tips for re-building trust through Service Delivery

1 Get your house in order
2 Build capability through connecting and committing with your people
3 Keep your eye on the management ball
4 Build open, collaborative organisations
5 Develop your people to have open and professional conversations
6 Listen to your colleagues and work cross together to deliver better value
7 Delete corporate speak – get real
8 Communicate more and do it even better
9 Be honest with your people before you aim to re-build trust with your customers
10 Remember – cost-cutting can be done positively