How to avoid the trust crisis

Consumers don’t trust less today. They’re just better at calling out inconsistent, unclear and inauthentic material when they see it, argues Crisis Shield's Allan Briggs.

New data suggests the global ‘crisis of trust’ may have paused and that a handful of Australian organisations know how to buck the anti-establishment trend.

Organisations immune from this crisis have successfully delivered consistent, clear and authentic messages in their quest to give consumers value for money. This is the model for trust to follow.

Trust is an essential part of communications. Without it, your target audience will treat your messages with scepticism, or ignore them for a competitor. For this reason, the global ‘crisis of trust’ in public and private institutions is seen by marketers as their problem.

There’s a lot of doom and gloom in communications that blames the trust crisis on technology. Technology has disrupted too many business models, empowered too many noisy consumers and splintered too many audiences, or so the argument goes.

Putting that aside for the moment, the numbers are finally starting to move in the right direction again. According to the just released Edelman Trust Barometer, the Global Trust Index measuring sentiment in the general population rebounded three points after a widely publicised decline. Australia’s rating went up eight points, only Hong Kong gained more ground.

In truth, that could be because we’re coming off a low base here. Trust in the Australian government was up seven points from 35 percent to 42 percent, while media was up eight points from 32 percent to 40 percent. The business sector rose seven points to 52 percent, while NGOs remained the most trustworthy, up eight points to 56 percent.

So, we can hardly call time on the crisis of trust and anti-establishment era. However, Roy Morgan’s Net Trust Score (NTS) shows there’s a long list of Australian organisations that have maintained their reputation with the public throughout this period. We need to copy them.

Roy Morgan’s NTS benchmarks the best-known brands targeting Australians against each other on the basis of trustworthiness. “The top driver of trust is customer service,” the report says. “But the highest aggregated drivers of trust coalesce around honesty, ethical behaviour, and integrity.”

German supermarket giant ALDI has consistently topped the Top 10, or ‘The Trustworthies,’ since the survey started last year. In the most recent survey by Bunnings finished second, followed by Qantas, ABC, Kmart, ING, NRMA, Toyota, Bendigo Bank and Target.

This is not an anti-establishment list. Bunnings is the biggest hardware retailer in the game and is owned by Australia’s second largest retailer Wesfarmers, which also owns Kmart and Target. Qantas is comfortably Australia’s largest airline, Toyota is the world’s second biggest carmaker, and the ABC is seen by some as being the height of the establishment.

Nor is this a list without controversy. Qantas is arguably the most controversial local company in the last decade, thanks to its decision to ground its fleet back in 2010. The ABC has just suffered a crippling leadership crisis. Meanwhile, Bendigo Bank did not escape scrutiny in the banking Royal Commission. Even Bunnings stuffed up the sausage sizzle.

What these organisations have in common is a clear, consistent and authentic pursuit of providing value for money to their users and stakeholders.

ALDI, Bunnings, Kmart and Target keep Australian homes stocked with cheap food and goods week-in-week out, while ING and Bendigo provide financial products tailored to the needs of their users.

The same clarity of purpose can be found at ABC, Qantas and NRMA, which also by their nature give consumers a sense of ownership or pride.

What about the Bottom 10 on the NTS survey, ‘The Untrustworthies’? You’ve got the big four banks and AMP, plus AGL, Shell, Coles, Telstra and Facebook.

The reality is a Royal Commission into the banks, rising energy costs, service outages and unrivalled privacy violations have made consistency impossible for these companies and authenticity near impossible.

That’s a better explanation of the declining level of trust in these institutions. While there might be a systemic technological factor that’s making everyone hate ‘the establishment’, consumers are equally better equipped to discover behaviour they find unacceptable and voice their opinion as they find a better deal.

Allan Briggs is founder and managing director at Crisis Shield.


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