An evolving world sets the context
At this year’s World Economic Forum in January, businesses from around the world signed the ‘Davos Manifesto’ – in short, a commitment to serving not just shareholders but also employees, customers, suppliers, local communities and society. While making the world a better place may have been top of mind for businesses at the start of 2020, just a few months later the impact of COVID-19 has put this commitment to the test.
Over the past several months citizens around the world have been observing and experiencing the ways that businesses have responded to COVID-19. Some companies have certainly delivered on their promises in the eyes of consumers. Others have come up short, acting in pursuit of profits rather than the best interests of their employees or customers, and eroded trust.
This should be a warning to all brands: If your customers don’t trust you to think and act humanely during a crisis, what will they think about you once the pandemic has subsided?
Not quite business as usual
The commitments made at Davos signal that status quo of business responsibility is changing, and now is the time to speak and act in ways that build trust with people. There are three key building blocks of trust for all brands to follow.
The first step is demonstrating integrity. Integrity means doing what you say you’ll do. Being reliable. It also means acting with moral principle, doing the right thing. The US National Basketball Association acted with integrity when it cancelled future events before being required to do so by law, to the detriment of their bottom line. It was an ethical thing to do for fans, employees and players. Indeed, according to Kantar’s COVID-19 Barometer, 73% of people say that they don’t want brands to exploit the coronavirus situation to promote themselves. Brands have a clear directive from people on what they should be doing and communicating.
The second building block of trust is demonstrating openness and honesty. This is done by listening to customers, showing compassion and telling them what you will do to help. Seventy-four percent (74%) of people believe that brands should communicate about their efforts to face this situation. And 78% say they expect brands to demonstrate what they are doing to help people in their everyday lives. One such example is DBS, a Singaporean bank that reacted quickly to support small and medium businesses during the crisis, offering a range of short-term liquidity measures as well as online resources to upskill business owners on crisis management.
The final element of trust is authenticity, which is about acting in a manner that is aligned with brand purpose and delivering on commitments in a way that is unique to the brand. Kantar’s CX+ 2020 global analysis shows that brands that are perceived to act with authenticity have three times the levels of trust than those who are seen to be inauthentic. Unfortunately, the majority of brands fall into the inauthentic camp: just 44% of people think that their brands deliver what they promise. A complete missed opportunity, as when a brand ensures the experience really lives up to the promise, the magic happens. Take eBay, which rapidly debuted a new ‘Up and running’ program at the start of the pandemic to help immediately bring small businesses online, allowing them to continue trading. With no selling fees and plenty of guidance on how to run an online business, eBay authentically lived up to their promise of empowering people and creating economic opportunity.
Building trust isn’t easy. It takes time, across an accumulation of small moments, but it is an essential business pillar during times of crisis. And there is no better time to focus on building trust than the present.