Restoring Public Trust by Moving from Words to Deeds

The damage that was done to the brand Corporate America by the transgressions of 2002 may well last for many years. The business faces the challenge of restoring trust in the public and overcoming negative associations with the brand.

Enron and Arthur Andersen were just a few of the names that have cemented greed as a characteristic that is now firmly associated with corporate America’s brand promise.

Many other companies have exacerbated the damage by showing how well they can represent themselves. The most notable of these is the questionable, if not illegal, business practices manifested in vastly overstated earnings (and are now being restated) and by heavy use of stock options to increase CEO salaries greatly.

But here’s the problem. Corporate America’s brand was probably not as popular as it could have been.

In a Gallup survey conducted in mid-2002, only 20% of Americans expressed confidence in the big business. This figure was only 28% higher a year ago before the scandals broke out.

Interestingly, it was government leaders, not business leaders, who called for reforms. They made a big show of handcuffing “criminals” at the top of the corporate ladder in an attempt to restore public trust in the economic system.

It is the business community, and not the government, that should be responsible for restoring the trust in corporate America. While the process of rebuilding an existing product or service is similar, it’s much more time-consuming, difficult, and, in the end, impossible.

The more you do it individually, the greater the chances are that bad apples will become the exception.

It is not something that a marketing or executive team can directly target. If the person saying “Trust Me” has not followed through with their words, they are usually the last to be trusted.

To restore trust in corporate America and its companies, you will need to demonstrate three elements of a relationship based on trust:

  1. Proof that you can do what you say you can.
  2. Transparency in your motivation is important.
  3. Consistent performance is a good way to demonstrate your reliability.

Capability is the easiest thing to improve. Competence is the key.

Your company’s products and services must be at least as good or better than the competition. This is the cost of entry for most businesses. Most are focused on offering the best possible service or product, taking into account costs and other constraints.

It is a little trickier to convey motivation. Transparency in your business, your values, your methods of making money, and your earnings all help to build trust that your motives are aligned with your customers and shareholders.

Your stakeholders know that most companies exist to make money. They don’t like to be taken for a ride. The public is becoming more concerned with the quality of the service and price received.

It takes time to establish the reliability factor. The reliability factor is perceived by consistent interactions with a company or brand and requires repeated exposure. It can also take many forms. For example, it could be a consistent delivery schedule, a strong link with product quality, or the way that customers are treated prior to, during, and even after purchase.

It is only through time and consistent delivery of all three fronts that customer and public confidence can be restored. And even then, it’s still not guaranteed.

The most savvy business leaders will be able to recognize this challenge and create proof points in each of these three areas, starting the process of rebuilding trust in the larger brand of corporate America.

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