“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.”
COVID-19 may serve as a case study in building customer and employee trust for years to come, but it doesn’t take a global pandemic to create a crisis that affects your business. While we will be focusing on how to regain the trust of your customers and employees post-pandemic, remember that a pandemic isn’t the only crisis that can erode trust in a business.
Remember Volkswagen’s 2015 admission that it had added software to its diesel cars to give false exhaust readings? Dieselgate, as it came to be known, destroyed a lifetime of consumer brand trust and cost the CEO and several other senior executives their jobs. How about BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion in which CEO Tony Hayward famously blurted out, “I’d like my life back.” He got his wish, along with a pink slip as oil poured onto Gulf of Mexico beaches for 87 straight days. Finally, there’s Wells Fargo, whose employees created two million fake accounts, removing funds from customer accounts to meet overly aggressive sales figures. Customers were charged nearly a half-million dollars in overdraft fees.
One could argue that there is a big difference between these self-created crises and a global pandemic, but the result is often the same. Customers lose their trust, question everything you say and do, look for proof that you are being true to your word, and act on your promises, and if you don’t, they will go elsewhere. Worse, they will tell everyone they know that you are not to be trusted.
In this lesson, we will examine how the world has changed since March 2020 and discuss ways businesses can build trust if they are new or rebuild trust if they were forced to disrupt operations or close temporarily.
A New World
It’s far too early to say precisely how COVID-19 will reshape the world. But it is safe to say that events of this magnitude do change the way we interact, do business and conduct our daily lives. Some of these changes occur because we are psychologically different from who we were before a crisis. Others are because of the way we change the world around us to meet our evolving needs.
Remember Aug. 2001? Of course, you don’t. It was a period of time when we could walk with our family and friends out to the airport gate. We didn’t have to take off our shoes or throw away that bottle of expensive cologne because it weighed more than 3 ounces.
Then Sept. 11 came. Everything changed virtually overnight. We became hypervigilant, looking for any possible threat and were more than willing to give up some of our rights and routines to feel safe and secure.
In the wake of this pandemic, people may feel the same way when they visit or work in your business. Some will want to forget about when they had to wear a mask everywhere, stay six feet apart and learn the art of the elbow bump. Others will still be wary or even hypervigilant, expecting new levels of cleanliness or accommodation for months, even years to come.
Additionally, many may have changed the way they shop, dine out or entertain themselves. Once full restaurants or live theaters may find themselves with plenty of open seats. Small businesses may have found that their customers find shopping online to be more efficient and safe. It may be harder to attract workers back to certain types of jobs that always had applicants.
As a business, you’re going to have to navigate this new world, one where a global disruption up-ended once-loyal customers and workers. The marketplace may be less homogenous. Some people may be traumatized by the loss of relatives or friends during the pandemic. Others were left without jobs to go back to and worry that another economic disruption could leave them out in the cold again. There may be residual anxiety and anger issues that are still simmering under the surface. Moreover, customers and staff may be less trusting, even of you and your business. During the pandemic, trust issues increased, thanks mainly to the lack of leadership, conflicting information, and phased closures that seemed random and arbitrary at times.