Do Customers Trust Your Business?

Are cynicism and suspicion is ruining our society and our workplaces?
December 20, 2011

Congress, the news media, business: Polls show that Americans don’t place great trust in any of these institutions. A management professor says that cynicism and suspicion is ruining our society and our workplaces.

How can America fix the backstabbing and dishonesty that mistrust breeds? Robert F. Hurley, a management professor at Fordham University in New York City, offers suggestions in his new book, The Decision to Trust: How Leaders Create High-Trust Organizations (Jossey-Bass, 2011). The book has been commended by chief executives and business professors.

As a consultant and coach, Hurley has worked with NASA, Avon Products, IBM, Kinkos, Mercedes Benz and others. For the book, he interviewed and researched the culture of several large corporations and crafted a planning model that establishes whether or not one party can trust another.

We trust people when we are confident that they will serve our interest, even in a risky situation, Hurley says. In other words: when someone has your back. People will offer their trust when they perceive that certain people, or organizations, are trustworthy. To rebuild this muscle in American life, people need to get better at trusting—or shrink the market for the untrustworthy. In short, it’s up to the little guys to develop more trustworthy leaders.

“Real trust is about creating a community of people who take pride in being a member of that community,’’ says Hurley, speaking to an audience recently at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business.

Hurley studied companies that engineered trust into their corporate culture and leadership, places like Zappos, SAS and Starbucks. Starbucks, for instance, practices “corporate benevolence,’’ Hurley says. The company works with nonprofits that help farmers improve their cultivation methods so they don’t strip land and destroy their future business.

Hurley offered these suggestions for managers, workers and organizations to build trust.

1. Create a trustworthy environment by creating a culture where everyone bonds around values. Zappos, he says, creates a workplace where everyone is expected to be invested in customer happiness.

2. Align interests. Great leaders integrate a variety of stakeholders’ interests so the company is not just serving the shareholders. They also think about the customers and the employees.

3. Show benevolent concern.

4. Be capable and competent.

5. Be predictable and have integrity.

6. Communicate well. Be accurate and clear.

The high trust leader under promises and over delivers, Hurley says. "A high-integrity person explains why he did what he did. They strive to honor their word." Hurley explains more about these factors and his Decision to Trust Model on his website,

What happens when someone is working in a nontrustworthy environment, perhaps after a scandal occurred, or a relationship soured?  "We have to try and be trustworthy and build an island of trust," Hurley says. “If enough people do that, that can change the company.’’ He noted, though, that what changes a company more is when many employees leave. Managers then realize "that this is not working, and that’s an incentive to change," Hurley says.

With Americans still feeling the effects of the recession, this is a particularly challenging time for many business people who believe all business suffered from the taint of Wall Street and banking scandals, Hurley says. Trust runs in cycles, he adds. After this crisis passes, the country can expect to see trust rise again.

Image credit: iStock