The Taxing Problem of Trust

trust-e1436536636481The tax affairs of the rich and powerful in the headlines this week had me thinking about the issue of trust – that most precious of assets that takes time to win yet only moments to lose. In a recent poll just 21%* of Britons trust politicians to tell the truth, so even with the latest scandal to hit Parliament, Government ministers don’t have very far to fall in the eyes of the public. But while politicians may be perhaps a lost cause in the trust stakes, what about the rest of us?

As a freelance PR, advising clients on how to build and maintain trust through how they communicate is part of the job. The trick of course is to not lose trust in the first place, which means striving to be authentic, transparent and honest – and seeking to always match what you say with what you do. This may seem rich coming from one whose profession is often called ‘spin’, but there’s a world of difference between looking to highlight positive aspects of a product, service or issue – and seeking to hide, misdirect or puff up features and benefits that simply don’t match the reality.

But what happens when an action, either deliberate or accidental, does lead to a loss of trust? How does a business win it back? Here’s four golden rules to remember:

Apologise: swiftly and sincerely. Everyone makes mistakes and you need to own yours. In my view, one of the reasons that former Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong has yet to be publicly rehabilitated after his disgrace is that he has yet to really apologise for his behaviour. He has just offered excuses for it.

Put It Right: while it’s not always possible to retrace your steps, you need to show that lessons have been learnt so that a similar event won’t happen again. One of the most famous ‘recovery of trust’ examples by a brand is that of Johnson & Johnson. When the company learned that its Tylenol brand of painkillers had been tampered with, it not only did a global recall of every product, it didn’t put the painkiller back on the market until it had made the packaging tamper-proof, costing the business millions but ensuring peace of mind for its customers and preventing future problems. As a result, customer trust in the brand was actually higher following the incident than before it happened.

Make a peace offering: a show of good faith in the form of something tangible after a fall from grace will go some way to help people feel good about your brand again, as long as it’s prompt and appropriate. United Airlines made many mistakes in the handling of a claim from a passenger whose guitar had been damaged by baggage handlers. One of the things they did right was to offer free Starbuck’s coffee gift cards to all domestic flight passengers in a bid to make them feel good about the airline again. It worked, with trust levels receiving a big boost following the gesture**.

Match your behaviour to your words: Ensuring what you say and what you do are the same, if not, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride. Just ask David Cameron.

*Ipsos Mori