When it comes to making a buying decision, where does trust rate as a criterion? A recent Wall Street
Journal interview with a couple of business consultants tried to address the question using the travails
of United Airlines as an example of a company that has lost public trust. The downturn in business for
United because of poor customer experiences is a strong indicator that there is a link between trust and
business—even when the traveling public has relatively few choices.
That is a reasonable construct no one will argue with, however, the subsequent comments challenged
my viewpoint. One interviewee in the article stated that his research revealed that family business is
“twice as trusted as big public companies”. However, I can tell you that in our research for the last 20
years, we have evidence that being a “family business’ is not a high buying criteria. So, you might say,
yes, I think a family business may have more integrity, but can they “ship it on time and in full all of the
time”? The buying criteria tends to be the latter. Trust may be viewed as higher for mid-market
companies but meeting customer’s immediate needs rank even higher in today’s environment. That’s
not to say family businesses cannot meet those needs, but they shouldn’t rely on the family business
It is good news for family businesses that they are regarded with high trust. However, it is only good
news if we are making a buying decision solely upon “trust”, unfortunately that is rarely the case.
A company, large or small, l can only build and maintain that trust by delivering that which the customer
needs and as promised. If Jones & Son can do it better than GE, then trust goes to them. Vice versa also
applies but trust is built and maintained not on the size or origin of the company but rather the ability to
consistently meet customer demands.
Spoiler Alert: Telling or expecting customers to buy “trust” from your company is too vague a promise.
Do customers trust you to deliver on time? Do they trust you are ethical? Do they trust you to honor
guarantees? Do they trust their order will be damage free? Or, the flip side is how some customers
have come to trust the airlines? We often trust them to be late, lose our bags, pack us into small seats?
Trust today has become an expectation that a company will behave a certain way. Which way have you
committed to? How do you hold your team accountable for those things? Trust is fleeting. Measure
and manage those things most highly valued by your customer.