Since the economic crisis of 2008, the level of public trust in corporations has decreased precipitously. The distrust is more evident among banks and financial companies, the fast food industry, genetically modified food producers, and even governments and elected officials.
Therefore, everyone has suddenly become fascinated by the question of how to turn the situation around and actuate trust. By consulting and doing research for banks and financial companies, mainly in Europe, I’ve discovered some interesting facts that might be helpful along the way:
#1: Talking about trust doesn’t actuate trust.
Several banks have used the word ‘trust’ in their ads and as a part of their slogans. I’ve never seen it work, but I’ve often seen it fail. That’s because if a company is plagued with public distrust, the skepticism increases with each statement implying they are not.
What Nixon said in 1974 (‘I am not a crook’) did not wash away any of his discredited image. It only convinced people that he was kind of a crook.
#2: Customers used to relate trust with big money, but not any more.
Announcing big deals and large profits used to stimulate trust because people used to think that dealing with large sums of money will make companies more stable. But at this point that’s just history we can recollect with a nostalgic grin on our faces. People have seen large corporations fail almost out of the blue and therefore, past success is a less icon for trust and stability than it once was.
#3: Today, trust is actuated with communications.
Companies need the right kind of communication, tone, and well-framed messages to inspire trust because people start to associate a company with trust when it starts sending out messages with a certain kind of tonality. For banks and financial companies, that means they have to change the way they interact with customers and the public in general. They know how to convey ideas in a distant, rigid, and dominant manner, but many financial companies lack the skills to communicate in a sympathetic and friendly manner.
#4: Certain values stimulate trust.
Through my consulting work for banks and financial companies, I’ve seen many instances where distrusted banks have been successful in turning around. In the majority of cases, this happened when banks and financial companies conveyed messages with a tone of gratitude, appreciation, selflessness, sympathy or humility. These are by far the most effective values to include in messages to spur consumer trust.
The intention here is not to let it sound easy. It isn’t. It’s not about including a ‘dash’ of gratitude and appreciation in your message to make everyone happy. That can never happen because the beauty of this communication strategy has an unexpected side effect. By nature, these five elements contain within them the concept of sincerity. Therefore, it is impossible to hold these values without sincerity. That is, you can’t fake them. You have to find a sincere truth that exists within your organization and convey that truth to your customers.
The biggest obstacle here is how employees in banks and financial companies have been trained to think and react. Banking has never been about gratitude and appreciation, nor sympathy. Banking is about making money, and that is quite contrary to selflessness. Therefore, it has been hard for bankers to engage in sincere messaging. Many even think it’s a silly thing to do. But those are quite often the same people who like to say they are just waiting for things to get back to the way they were in the years before the economic crash. But that will not happen. We have a new reality that is here to stay. That reality embraces a change of tone which consumers are demanding.
This reliance on old attitudes and resistance to changing them is the main reason why traditional banks and financial companies have such a great difficulty in regaining trust. Bankers have been trained not to think in terms of appreciation. Some even have trouble comprehending such a value as humility. It is apparent that external help is a necessity for financial institutions if they want to build loyalty instead of continuing down the road of distrust.