Trust is a two way street

28th Aug, 2015

Cheating in sport has been front page news this summer, from Seb Coe as President of the IAAF saying it is rife in athletics, to Mo Farah having to fight unsubstantiated accusations – cheating is often making bigger headlines than the results.

But is cheating just a sporting phenomenon or is it now widespread in every area of life? I’ve just been re-reading  psychologist Dan Ariely’s book, The Upside of Irrationality – his research shows that the majority of us will cheat if we believe we can get away with it – but not by very much.

This tallies with The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies research which looked at UK consumers’ experience of ‘shady practices’; on the one hand, many consumers admit to being perpetrators of ‘shady behaviour’……

  • 61% had committed a shady practice themselves e.g. paying cash in hand, keeping incorrect change, using another person’s travel card or another person’s identity card.
  • 7% of claimants said they had padded an insurance claim.

But importantly, most consumers felt that they had been victims of shady practice in their turn….

  • 82% of consumers felt they had been victims of shady practices in the marketplace (e.g. sold shoddy food, offered poor accommodation, had unnecessary repairs carried out etc.)
  • 31% of adults who had made an insurance claim said they had been offered too little by an insurer and 22% had had bank errors un-rectified.

(The research also showed that the majority of offenders are people from higher socio-economic groups as opposed to lower – and are most likely to be educated, employed and have higher incomes.)

Many organisations have mental models of consumer behaviour that are mechanistic (e.g. an over reliance on price as a behavioural lever) and negative (e.g. ‘consumers can’t be trusted and most think fraud is okay’; ‘we shouldn’t be criticised for mis-selling when the real issue is that consumers are ignorant about XYZ and need educating). This matters because, by and large, we get from other people the behaviour we expect.

Trust is also a specific rather than general attribute. We may trust a company to obey the law but we might not trust them to call us back as promised.  We know that we have to accept certain things about a company that we cannot personally verify, such as the company’s ethical approach, but the important  ‘trust points’ will be shaped directly by our own experiences.

So where does this leave us?  There are several things that all companies can do to improve levels of trust – if they want to:

  • Offer genuine choice – not so much that consumers are swamped
  • space
  • Act in a more transparent manner
  • space
  • Make propositions, products and processes as simple as possible
  • space
  • Don’t be cynical
  • space
  • Treat customers as you’d wish to be treated, i.e. with respect
  • space
  • Focus more on customers and their needs and less on products

Most, if not all, companies know this but they’re not acting on this knowledge. Why not?