Trust Dynamics in Business


Trust is variously defined as a belief in the reliability, truth or ability of something or someone. It is something we tend to take for granted. We don’t really notice it till it’s gone. Don’t believe me? Make a list of your five best friends in the world. Now imagine you’ve just seen a video of them stealing money from your wallet or having an affair with your husband or wife. Are they still on that list? Nope.

When it comes to business, there are many different ways in which trust impacts our customers and our companies. Over the past 200-plus episodes of my daily podcast – Trent365! – it’s a topic that’s come up a few times.

Brands or Companies

A good place to start our discussion might be with Episode 458 of Trent365! – We Trust Brands, Not Companies. It’s a realisation that was really driven home to me in the wake of the Weight Watchers Re-Branding Debacle. Most companies, to most people, are essentially faceless organisations. If it’s a retail company, you may know a few of the staff at your local retail store. If you do, it’s them that you really have the relationship with. It’s not with the company. The only chance you have of gaining real trust from your consumers, is if you can build a brand. Here’s my thoughts as expressed on the show…

The System or The Individual

Just like our retail example earlier, it’s also worth considering the difference between trust in an individual versus trust in a system or an institution. When I am a guest in a hotel, I trust that the hotel will have the breakfast restaurant open at 7am. That’s what they told me in the Guest Directory. But what if the Chef and the Restaurant Manager are sick today? Even if I personally met them both the day before, I don’t really blame them for the restaurant not being open. I blame the hotel. Because my trust has been placed in the system, not the individual. I expect the hotel to have systems and processes in place to offer breakfast as promised.  If it was an independent restaurant, my expectations are different. My trust is more likely to rest with the owner.

It wasn’t an experience with a hotel restaurant that prompted this, but a hotel pool. Take a listen…

Absent Opportunities

Where it starts to get especially interesting to me, is when a competitor business or brand loses the trust of their clients. The example that I came across in China was around medical data. Obviously, when it comes to something as serious as your medical information, trust is critical. If patients or clients don’t trust you, they won’t use you for this. Simple as that. And so where trust is lacking or even absent, my colleagues in China found an opportunity to exploit.

Here’s what happened…

The Trade Off

Finally, a question for consideration when it comes to hiring people for your organisation. Which is more important – Trust or Competence? This was an actual discussion we had internally when looking at filling a vacancy. Frankly, to me, it seemed like a pretty simple answer. I felt that for sure, without complete trust in the individual, we could never hire them. But as we worked through the two individuals shortlisted, we realised the gap in competence between them was significant. So then we were forced to ask ourselves, how much competence and ability we would forgo for the sake of total trust. Before we knew it, a simple decision became anything but.

This is how the discussion evolved for us…

Trust is a simple thing. You either have it or you don’t.

But it’s not that simple. Not really. Not in practise.

Trust, it turns out, isn’t always binary. It’s rarely a yes or no.