Why businesses need to move beyond “forced trust”

Every business relies on its customers’ trust. From the most local of corner shops to the most far-reaching of multinationals, few transactions – if any – can be expected to take place in the absence of some degree of faith in provider and product.

But is this trust total or something altogether less absolute? Is it authentic or somehow counterfeit? Perhaps most tellingly, has it been earned or is it merely assumed?

The latter is too often the case. In compiling the Trust Index, an independent measure of consumer perceptions of the financial services industry, we refer to it as “forced trust”.

It’s a widespread phenomenon. It stems from a belief among customers that they have no choice but to trust the organisation they’re dealing with, having engaged with it on the basis of little more than mere necessity in the first place.

“[Forced trust] stems from a belief among customers that they have no choice but to trust the organisation they’re dealing with”

Such a “fingers crossed” philosophy is sustained by an accompanying conviction – strengthened by various high-profile scandals – that there are no superior alternatives. It represents a collective shrug of the shoulders. “What does it matter? They’re all as bad as each other.”

Forced trust” panders to accusations of facelessness. It reinforces the impression that levels of customer service are unlikely to rise above the functional and may well be downright unavailing. It underpins a consumer-provider relationship that should satisfy neither party.

So what should the average business do about it? In many instances – not least in the financial sector – the default position has been to await word from on high and take action only in the face of regulators’ interventions.

This really isn’t what consumers want. They want unilateral commitment to building trust. They need to know that the people and organisations they deal with are making their own sincere and significant efforts to understand what trust means from a customer perspective. They need to feel they have a direct connection with their providers rather than one filtered through the paternalistic prism of a regulatory authority.

Encouragingly, at least in the financial services industry, there is evidence of progress, as Trust Index figures show. This is extremely welcome, because the bottom line is that it’s dangerous – even insulting – to presume the public will forever wallow in apparent apathy and that institutional lethargy will invariably be mirrored by consumer indifference. The more businesses strive to develop genuine trust, the more the alternative will rightly come to be regarded as not only unwise but worthy of contempt.


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