Companies that are transparent about their values and practices build long-term relationships with customers, employees and investors. Conversely, businesses that lose the trust of stakeholders can quickly fail — especially in today’s digital-first marketplace, where finding new options is easier and faster than ever before.
Even business leaders with the best intentions may unwittingly engage in practices that undermine trust and damage their brand. To help your company avoid the same fate, the members of Business Journals Leadership Trust share 14 common trust-breaking mistakes they have seen businesses make and what should be done instead.
1. Not following through on promises
Businesses often make statements or promises but don’t follow through or keep the promise. To me, this is the biggest trust eroder. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t say you’ll do something that you later don’t do. And if you make a statement or promise, then, by all means, don’t break it. Keep your word. – Toshiyasu Abe, OPAS
2. Not addressing problems head-on
When a problem arises with a customer or client — which is inevitable — businesses that address it head-on, admit their mistake and remedy it will gain trust. With the abundance of review platforms online, such as Yelp, Google and Facebook, potential clients can get a feel of what it’s like to work with you and what to expect if something goes wrong. We love second chances. – Jean-Paul Gedeon, JPG MEDIA
3. Saying what your customer wants to hear
A common mistake that can lead to the erosion of trust at the very beginning of a customer relationship is overpromising. Business owners must ensure they aren’t simply saying what the customer wants to hear. If what’s being said in the marketplace isn’t reflecting what your business is executing day in and day out, your words don’t hold any weight and trust will be greatly diminished. – Stacy McCall, ServiceMaster by Stratos
4. Being afraid to grant trust
Don’t be afraid of intimacy and granting trust as a means of accelerating mutual understanding. It is this understanding that allows you to build and sustain trust. Once you have trust, you must honor and respect it, never compromising your integrity. A brand is how someone experiences your culture. Set and enforce standards, top to bottom, or you’ll suffer in the long run. – Craig Parisot, ATA, LLC
5. Not being open to client feedback
Caring about your customer and their opinion of your company matters. You must take the time to know your clients and care for them as individuals. Build the relationship so that they feel they can be honest with you. Be open to suggestions and listen to their recommendations. – Ana Rivero, Allied Property Group
6. Failing to communicate
You lose trust when you stop communicating and vanish from the frontlines. Today everyone has a voice, and when leaders and companies shy away from using that voice, they lose trust in the marketplace. Today’s leaders should stand tall, own up to mistakes and be transparent with their audience. Failure to do so means the market will move on to someone who is leading from the front. – Greg Rollett, Ambitious Media Group
7. Not being honest or transparent
People won’t trust you if you don’t show them trust. If you hold everything close to the vest, are evasive or leave key details out, people will see right through you. Business relationships, like personal relationships, require risk and the vulnerability that comes along with it. If you are taking on something with someone, it will never be successful if all parties can’t be 100% honest. – Brent Foley, TRIAD Architects
8. Ignoring negative comments
It’s upsetting to discover negative comments on digital channels, but ignoring them is a sure-fire way to completely lose customer confidence. If customers need service, promptly answer them. – Wesleyne Greer, Transformed Sales
9. Sharing ‘off-brand’ messaging
Ensure that all public messages — even social messages, which can be put together quickly — emulate the brand’s position. This position should be carefully crafted and aligned with the customer demographic. Don’t let the need for posting social media content encourage your creators to post “off-brand” messaging that will erode customer trust. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne Advertising
10. Not considering the optics of your actions
Customers are human and slow to trust — and they can lose it instantly. A brand is valuable only if it is synonymous with the truth. Businesses often err by walking a thin reputational line. The optics of an action matter more than the action. If something looks wrong — even if it’s technically correct — it will hurt the business and the value of the brand. In short, avoid even a remote appearance of impropriety. – George Befeler, The Befeler Group
11. Trying to ‘fix’ things behind the scenes
Too often, businesses want to “fix the client problem” behind the scenes rather than just embracing reality and dealing with it. Clients are much more amenable if you are upfront and honest. In a world of short-burst communications, we have lost some of the skill of thoughtful communication. – Russell Benaroya, Stride
12. Not sharing progress reports
Poorly managing expectations is a fast track to eroding trust. Studies show that buyers’ monetary cost increases as information increases, suggesting that sellers might profit from the exchange of information and, indirectly, from trust. Continuous communication of progress toward the target will reinforce the customer’s or stakeholder’s interest and their trust in your company and brand to deliver. – Scott Young, PennComp Outsourced IT
13. Focusing on fees instead of client needs
Stop focusing on your bottom line instead of your clients. Take great care of clients and they will take care of you. Avoid the nickel-and-dime fees and focus on growing, helping and developing your clients and customers. – Carter Keith, 31,000 FT.
14. Failing to build internal trust
More than ever, the trust and authenticity of a brand must be right internally to be right externally. Consumers and stakeholders see right through this. Add in social media, and the word spreads like wildfire. – Keri Higgins-Bigelow, livingHR, Inc.