When it comes to building customer trust, service over sustainability

New data from Pricewaterhouse Coopers shows how indifferent business leaders are to the factors that contribute to customer trust and how the steps they are taking to build trust with their markets are largely collapsing.

The PwC Trust Survey asked more than 5,000 consumers and business people about the dynamics underlying trust, which “we believe is a vital currency for the future,” said Wes Bricker, co-leader of US Trust Solutions at the consulting giant, in a media briefing.

The results indicate that executives still have a lot of work to do.

The most striking finding is that 87% of business leaders believe that consumers have a lot of confidence in their business, while only 30% of consumers say the same.

Business leaders also said that trust is more of a bottom-up than a top-down proposition compared to customers with a 47% to 27% margin.

This indicates that trust building is an issue that many would just as soon hear nothing about.

The results also provide strong evidence that the factors that executives believe instill trust in customers are completely wrong. For example, while 45% of business leaders said they focus on transparent communication, only 13% of consumers and 19% of employees valued quality.

And only half as many customers as executives said they care deeply about a company’s sustainability initiatives.

The basics are important

So which factors affect customer confidence the most? According to the research, it is the basis.

The top three are affordable products/services, well-treated employees, and the availability of a variety of high-quality products and services.

Being a good corporate citizen and admitting mistakes quickly and honestly came up well on the list.

One explanation for these results could be the timing. People concerned about inflation, high gas prices and supply chain disruption are less likely to look at the big picture than during a robust economy.

“The decisions consumers are currently focused on are the affordability of products and services,” Bricker says. “These are the current business opportunities for business leaders to address with consumers.”

That doesn’t mean we should ignore bigger environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

The message is that it can be distracting to focus on those priorities to avoid delivering value at the checkout. “Now is not the time to cut spending and undermine confidence among consumers, employees and capital providers,” said Brinker.

Bad news overlooked

The results come at an interesting time given the final trials from ride-sharing leader Uber.

The company has endured years of negative press about the business practices of former executives, but Uber’s dominant market share has barely moved since 2017.

Stories about abuses are apparently more interesting for politicians and the media than for people looking for a lift.

The 2022 Axios Harris Poll Reputation Ranking carries this out. Top companies such as Trader Joe’s, HEB Grocery, Toyota, Hershey, Amazon and Patagonia don’t make a big difference with their corporate social responsibility initiatives, instead focusing on delivering unique and high-quality experiences.

Customers who love the experience tend to overlook the fact that their business history isn’t necessarily squeaky clean.

Those companies are also likely to get the benefit of the doubt if the news isn’t so good, said Mohamed Kande, PwC’s co-leader of US Consulting Solutions. “Consumers can understand and appreciate that we have inflation and prices can go up,” he said. “[They expect] that quality is maintained, regardless of the pricing.”

Keeping findings in context

While the short-sighted treatment that customer respondents gave to environmental and social factors may be a little depressing, keep the context in mind.

Companies have many stakeholders, including investors, suppliers, regulators and partners in the value chain, and the research indicates that ESG initiatives resonate with those groups more than buyers.

PwC researchers also recommend taking a long-term view: “Employee and consumer priorities can be fickle,” they write. “Trust can sometimes mean acting in the long-term best interests of stakeholders, whether they care about it or not.”

An interesting sidebar of the research is the importance of building trust among employees, a priority that has become particularly urgent during the Great Resignation.

The 503 business leaders surveyed rated employees as their second most important stakeholder group, ahead of investors and suppliers and just behind customers.

Nearly half said they had implemented a trust building plan with employees.

This is proof that employers are finally increasingly inclined to treat their people as part of the customer experience and not as interchangeable gears in a machine.

When you think of companies that you enjoy doing business with, there is a good chance that this includes cheerful, motivated employees.

It’s a welcome trend that I hope will transcend the short-term crisis.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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