Public Trust: How Can Companies Build It?

The Edelman Trust Barometer showed that for the past years, trust among the four cornerstone global institutions—business, government, non-government organizations, and media—is at its lowest. The survey included 28 countries. Of those surveyed, trust in the four global institutions fell below 50%. Trust in the chief executive officers fell to a miserable 37% globally. Around the world, people don’t believe that they will be better off in 2025.

And this wasn’t because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, way back in January 2020, the trust rating had already been at its lowest. Despite the strong economy in pre-pandemic times, the trust in institutions is at its lowest level in decades. What could be the reason for the erosion of trust in government and other institutions?

To understand why the public lost their trust in these institutions, you must first look at what they value. People base their trust on ethics and competence. For most of the respondents, they don’t regard the four institutions as competent and ethical. This mistrust is born from inequity, concerns about the impact of new technologies, fears about the future, and skepticism about the current state of the economy.

But trust is important in businesses. Trust is the glue that binds a company to its customers and the community. Without it, customers will not likely remain loyal to your business. And when customers aren’t loyal, where will that leave your business?

Find the Silver Lining

SMRT, the multi-modal public transport operator that manages Singapore’s railway system, was involved in controversies in 2017 when flooding disrupted its operations. It didn’t take long before the company reorganized the management, including the appointment of SMRT CEO Neo Kian Hong. With Mr. Neo at the helm, he led the company in revamping its engineering, systems, operations, and customer service.

For him, the right way to gain public trust is to address the issues that plague the company. It’s neither to deny that there are issues nor to blame others. He said that acknowledging the past criticisms is critical if he wanted to reposition the company as a trusted transport operator.

Value Honesty and Transparency

The rule is simple: the more honest you are, the more people are going to trust you. Unfortunately, not all businesses think that way. Some are trying to push controversial issues under the rug, including the non-sustainability of their production process. In the United States, some state laws require companies to disclose profits they made from slavery. There’s even a company that exists to assist clients to better understand their companies’ connection to slavery.

Some companies also issue a sustainability report, which is a response to the public’s clamor for more environmentally friendly operations. With a more informed market, companies can no longer hide their business decisions that directly affect the environment. Consumers demand transparency, and if companies want to build trust, they should give it to them.

business men shaking their hands

Contribute to the Community

With better-informed consumers, it is expected that they will also oblige companies to contribute more to the community. What kind of contribution should a business make to the community? Sponsoring youth activities is one thing. Your business can also participate in community-building events such as music festivals that honor local musicians, weekend markets, sports events, and many more. You can also offer scholarships for local athletes, as well as less-fortunate children who excel in school.

Reiterate Values

What are the values that your company stands for? All over the world, businesses thread the fine line between indifference and activism. You will gain public trust by remaining true to your values. Consider opening the conversation about global issues such as climate change. Engage with your audience. Define where they stand and what is important to them. To gain their trust, you must also identify the values they hold dear.

It’s a tricky thing to do—to use your voice for social and environmental issues. You might isolate some sectors and lose profit, but many companies have voiced their stand on a number of key issues. If anything, their stand has made customers who value the same things more loyal.

Earning public trust takes time. People want to see consistency in your pursuant and protection of these values. They can see if it’s a one-time gesture or if you’re doing it simply because it’s a trend. Consumers want long-term commitment to reiterating values, providing exceptional services, contributing to the community, and solving problems head-on. If you do these things consistently, you will gain their trust and put your company on the track to success.

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