Three guaranteed methods to build or re-build broken trust in business.

Do you want to increase profits? Do you want your customers to be your best sales advocates? If so then you need to build trust with your customers, NOW!

Never in the history of Australia have there been so many Royal Commissions into unethical, dishonest or illegal practices committed by corporate entities such as the banking and financial industries, religious organisations, aged care and the like. One of these Royal Commissions, established on the 14the December 2017, to investigate misconduct in the Australian Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services industries headed by the Honourable Kenneth Madison Hayne AC QC recently concluded and his findings were scathing.

In the process the Royal Commission unravelled some disturbing and deceitful behaviours to say the least. The Australian banking Royal Commission alone received no less than 10,323 submissions of which 61% related to the Banking industry, 12% the Superannuation industry and 9% attributed to the financial advice and services industries. These only relate to submissions received so it’s fair to assume there would be many more complaints that were never acted upon or reported.

The hundreds of millions of dollars charged in ‘fees for no service’ by banks and insurance companies was a central part of the evidence heard over six months and Royal Commissioner Hayne was scathing in his finding of unethical, dishonest and institutionalized practices stating, “No matter whether the motive is called ‘greed’, ‘avarice’ or ‘pursuit of profit’, the conduct ignores basic standards of honesty.”

Example after example of misconduct perpetrated against loyal customers by profit driven banks was uncovered in excruciating detail. As senior executives and CEO’s squirmed in the witness box under examination one thing became glaringly obvious; that banks were driven more by profit motive than helping customers leading Commissioner Hayne to comment:  “Much if not all of the conduct identified in the first round of hearings can be traced to entities preferring pursuit of profit to pursuit of any other purpose,”

To add insult to injury whilst some CEO’s and executives were contrite about their disturbing and dishonest practices during the hearing others, such as National Australia Bank Chairman Ken Henry, sparked fury and outrage for his arrogant and aloof appearance and snide responses during questioning by the commission which led to his eventual demise. So not only was the NAB chairman, amongst others implicated in dishonest practices Henry’s performance was one of many reasons that aggrieved customers felt that their trust had been betrayed.

As an international speaker and consultant specializing in behavioral analysis I spend a lot of time consulting to large organisations on how to build trust and build profits, or as in more cases these days, how to re-build broken trust that has been fractured or eroded. Trust & loyalty are built over long periods of time. Every client expects trust and demands honesty from their banks and financial institutions.  During any keynote presentation I deliver on building trust my opening line is “Trust takes years to build, seconds to destroy and forever to repair.” It is evident that the banking industry, amongst others have a lot of “repairing” to do to win back the trust of their customers.

Building and maintaining trust with your customers is paramount for a company’s growth and long term prosperity.  Today’s most successful corporate brands have created trusted relationships with their customers that lead to sustained growth and more importantly customer loyalty. Betray that confidence or trust and your customers will abandon you. The growth of comparison websites in recent years is testimony that customers will move their accounts if they think they can get a better deal from your competitor or if you have betrayed them.

Customers of any corporate entity need to feel valued. Take for example how in April 1985 Coca Cola launched their “New Coke”.  Customers had an affection, affiliation and loyalty to the original tasting recipe and simply didn’t like the new taste. Management in their wisdom decided that the “New Coke” was better tasting stating that market testing clearly showed that customers preferred the new taste. In fact customers didn’t like the new taste at all leading to loyal customers boycotting the brand. Customers simply stopped purchasing the “New Coke”.  Management tried in vain to change their customers tastes but it backfired costing them millions of dollars in lost sales because their customers felt betrayed. The trust was fractured. Eventually the new product was pulled from shelves and the old recipe restored some three months later and a costly lesson learned.

Having worked with companies that have suffered negative media and catastrophic damage to brand and reputation the question is this: Is it possible for the banks, finance and insurance industries to win or earn that trust back?  The short answer is YES but it needs a structured, coordinated and empathetic approach. Banks can’t simply say “sorry we made a mistake” and expect past indiscretions or unethical behavior to be forgotten and swept aside. That’s like saying, “Trust me” and expecting customers to blindly accept your word after being misled and betrayed. I note that on the National Australia Bank’s website they state; “You can trust our experts to understand your needs and help you make the most of your money”. I also notice another banking commercial airing at the moment stating; “It’s not about the money”.  Blind statements about trust need to be supported with action and substance. Customers need to know that they will be given what they are promised and it is legal and ethical.

So what can the banking, financial and insurance sectors and other corporations do to win the trust of their customers or to win back the trust that may be been broken and betrayed? Here are three approaches from a total of 6 that I use when working with corporate that have had their brand irrevocably damaged.

1.  Learn from previous mistakes and identify what they are.

The banks need to learn from their previous mistakes and create a plan that identifies short comings in guidelines or procedures that have led to the problems in the first place. How do you do this?  Listen to and address the concerns that have been raised by either your customers or staff. You also need to identify if the internal culture may be contributing to such problems.  The trust cycle that I have promoted over the years revolves around respect, honesty, loyalty and a transparent reporting system be it an open or an anonymous reporting system. Staff should be encouraged to highlight their concerns about unethical behaviours and a reporting system is the most transparent method of achieving this. Fix the problem or the culture first.

2.  Apologise for breaches of trust, and mean it.

The more Bill Clinton denied a sexual relationship with White House Intern Monica Lewinski the deeper he sunk. When Clinton eventually admitted his involvement the general population could relate because like most people he made an “error in judgement” or a mistake. Moral or immoral behaviour aside he finally admitted it, he was contrite and the world moved on. However by then the damage had been done.

In a world full of legal ramifications, court actions, spin and PR companies plying their trade it’s important to admit that you got it wrong and that you are really and truly sorry. Not a half-baked partial “if you were offended then I’m sorry” apology but a real and genuine apology with meaning, empathy and remorse. Spin can only go so far before enraging your customers. Apologise with humility before your customers start sharpening their hashtags and unloading on social media causing even more damage.

I have helped companies come back from near bankruptcy to profitability just by admitting they had made a mistake, to take ownership, apologise and rebuild the trust that they breached and betrayed. How? By being human and displaying genuine remorse and asking for forgiveness.

3.  Change the culture of “profit at all costs” mantra

I have no problems with rewarding efficient staff with bonuses or other rewards. In fact I think rewards or incentives for good performance are essential in driving growth and performance. The problem lies with those that take short cuts or engage in unethical behaviors in an effort to earn those rewards or benefits. Worse still is where a blind eye attitude by senior management is turned or such behavior is ignored in the pursuit of profit.

Clear guidelines need to be established. Those staff members that operate outside the guidelines need to be disciplined and action taken to prevent similar behaviors. Corporate culture has to come from the top down, not the bottom up. Profits should always be a by-product of a great and ethical product or service not the other way around.

My business mantra is based on being creative rather than being competitive.  Competition will always exist but it’s the creative companies with a customer centric focus that will win the hearts, minds and budgets of customers. Think about this for a minute. If my customer is happy and I’m happy that I have fulfilled my obligations to my customers and it’s a win-win situation. Not only that but happy customers will become your best sales advocates. They will tell others and sales will increase as word of mouth spreads. Can you see the difference? Your customers become your best sales people because they are happy and your profits are now the by-product of trust and a good product or service.  Think back to the time when you were really impressed with exceptional service when purchasing a product, like the time the sales person went out of their way for you. How did it make you feel? It made you feel special right? Actions speak louder than words. Let your customers know that you care about them, appreciate them and go that extra mile for them. This is what building a business is all about. It’s about honesty, loyalty and trust.  Remember individual staff members are the people who build trusted relationships with your customers directly not the corporate entity, a catchy slogan or by line saying “Trust me.”

Steve van Aperen is a consultant and keynote speaker on building trust, reading your customers and growing profits in the process. Steve has assisted various companies on building/rebuilding trust.  To engage Steve’s consulting services visit the contacts page.

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