We launched the Edelman Trust Barometer in Ireland this morning. Please find the presentation below and my thoughts on this year’s results beneath it.

There’s a different focus on the Trust Barometer this year, with less emphasis placed on emerging digital communications channels and more of a focus on the current economic climate. The obvious results are a fall in trust in business and a call for stricter regulation across industries. The statistic that has grabbed the media headlines already is that 83% of survey respondents in Ireland trust business less now than at the same time last year, the highest fall in any of the twenty countries covered. An encouraging sign is the continued faith in the Knowledge Economy, with the technology and biotech sectors ranking as the top two most trusted industries in Ireland.

The two most interesting aspects of the Trust Barometer for me are the idea as trust as a currency and the ever increasingly complicated communications ecosystem we live in.

Trust as a currency

The past twelve months have clearly illustrated that trust effects consumer spending. Consumers are increasing their savings as concerns grow about taxes hikes or potential job losses. We’re not going to see an economic recovery until regular members of the public feel secure enough to spend again, yet how we set about achieving that is a complicated task. Clearly, we must not aspire to return to the same era where we lived beyond our means. In the meantime, the purchasing decision process is going to be a drawn out affair with consumers shopping around for the best deal over a period of time. Strikingly, 95% of survey participants said that they did not purchase from a company they did not trust over the last twelve months.

While some commentators recently are fond of pointing out that companies who did well during the last recession were those that advertised, my advice would be to ensure to invest in your brand over the next five years. My definition of a brand follows Francois Gossieaux’s concept of the user interface of your company:

You brand gets defined by the UI (User Interface) of your company, the interface through which your customers and prospects interact with your company. That interface gets determined by pre-sale activities – i.e., advertising, retail layout, retail personnel attitude, telemarketing, sales people’s knowledge of the industry, etc -, as well as immediate post-sale activities – i.e., packaging, ease of use to set up the products, available help options, etc. -, and the long term post sale activities – i.e., telephone support, return policies, warranty policies, on-site support, etc. That makes up a lot of links in the chain that determines your brand in the mind of the consumers which your company controls.

There has never been a more important time to invest in the relationships a company has with its customers or to deliver internal processes to get closer to its customers. As many commentators have pointed out, there has been a decided shift in business circles from customer acquisition to customer retention.

As I have previously pointed out, the old way of doing things was selling to customers on a promise. The problem for advertisers is that consumers have bought into the promise and we’ve had enough with being disappointed with reality. Now companies are being charged with actually delivering on their promise. The companies that deliver will inevitably be the ones that flourish as the trusted relationships they have invested in lead to repeat sales. The mantra should be – if they don’t believe you, they won’t buy from you.

The Communications Ecosystem

I found the following statistics in the report quite telling:

  • 61% of respondents said that they needed to hear information about a company three to five times before they believed it
  • Only 21% of participants believe information they hear from a CEO about their company to be true
  • 41% put their faith in conversations with company employees ahead of official channels of information

The concept of top-down communication is heading towards extinction as we move towards a model of public engagement. Put simply, you need as many people telling your story as possible. This will require training your employees to act as brand ambassadors on your behalf, making as much content freely available and easy to distribute as possible and to create sustainable business practices that result in good news stories people would actually want to go out and discuss on your behalf.


9 Responses to “Edelman Trust Barometer 2009 – Irish Results”  

  1. 1 Brendan Hughes

    Hi Piaras. Thanks for sharing again and for the insightful analysis. The downward movement in business trustworthiness is worrying. Any thoughts on what is driving that? Nice to see that insurance industry trust has improved over the past 12 months.

  2. 2 Piaras

    In my opinion the global credit crisis is responsible for driving it. Someone made the comment at the launch this morning that trust and confidence are synonymous. The lack of confidence in financial markets is impacting people’s trust in business as the public questions whether companies are acting in a responsible fashion. Peter Brennan, Vice President of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, also noted that if you overlapped the fall in trust with the decline in share prices over the past 12 months you’d be looking at a pretty similar graph. If there is any silver lining, it’s that the trust decline is a global phenomenon. While the fall in confidence might be steep in Ireland, it’s not an isolated trend globally.

  3. 3 Facundo

    Great post and summary. I am part of that 41% that trusts an employee more than official channels, especially if I feel there’s some intimacy in that conversation. In that sense, I feel this figure means that there’s a lot of promise in services like Twitter. For instance: Whenever I log a support ticket with a supplier over the phone or their website, we usually tweet one of their employees to ensure that our matter is being looked after. I suppose this can be a challenge though: if consumers adopt similar behaviours, then the employees who tweet for their companies may eventually become less accesible or permeable, unless companies really make the acknowledgement of engaging through social media (and manage to still feel in control).

  4. 4 Piaras

    Interesting example you’ve offered. I think customer service needs to be reexamined and moved from a pull to push model, whereby customer service agents would proactively engage with consumers – i.e. monitoring a specific forum on boards.ie. This would require a fundamental rethink on the role of customer service though and a hefty investment.

  5. 5 Campbell Scott

    The report is really informative, but I completely agree with your suggestion of a “push” model for customer service – and it may not need such a hefty investment. Today, customer service is offered mainly through call centres – however the number of common problems can be considerable – so you have lots of people answering the phone to individual customers, giving the same answers. This requires hefty investment.

    So let’s take an alternative, where the query is posted openly on a discussion forum or network – the business responds openly such that anyone can see the response and understand the answer. This reduces the number of problems reported and can significantly reduce costs, creating more contented customers.

    The important facts in the report for me are that some of the most credible sources of information are both friends and employees of the business. This new model for customer care you suggest will increase trust – through employees and through customers, who become advocates.

    Here’s my review of the report
    http://soupireland.com/wordpress/?p=175

  6. 6 Campbell Scott

    The report is really informative, but I completely agree with your suggestion of a “push” model for customer service – and it may not need such a hefty investment. Today, customer service is offered mainly through call centres – however the number of common problems can be considerable – so you have lots of people answering the phone to individual customers, giving the same answers. This requires hefty investment.

    So let’s take an alternative, where the query is posted openly on a discussion forum or network – the business responds openly such that anyone can see the response and understand the answer. This reduces the number of problems reported and can significantly reduce costs, creating more contented customers.

    The important facts in the report for me are that some of the most credible sources of information are both friends and employees of the business. This new model for customer care you suggest will increase trust – through employees and through customers, who become advocates.

    Here’s my review of the report
    http://soupireland.com/wordpress/?p=175

  7. 7 paul

    thanks Piaras. Interesting stuff.

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