Executive Development April 30, 2020

Tough Times for Trust: Three Ways Companies Can Amplify Efforts Now for Increased Loyalty Post-COVID

By Leilani Latimer Chief Marketing & Commercial Operations Officer @ Earlens Corp

When I published my Leadership Manifesto at the beginning of this year, I put Trust in first place as a trend that would distinguish successful companies and leaders in 2020. Little did I know what was coming!

In just under two months, there has been a dramatic shift in trust—a complete “upside-down” in some cases. Here are three areas where that shift has taken place that are ripe for innovation and opportunity: the trust economy, technology security, and the employer/employee relationship.

The trust economy—how will the community rate cleanliness?

For years, the trust economy (also the sharing economy) has grown thanks to the strength and transparency of the community. Through reviews, ratings, stars, and points, customers can trust that the Airbnb they book, the product they buy on Amazon, or the Uber they get into meets their expectations thanks to a community that actively shares opinions, experiences, and scores on that product or service. The community is a stakeholder, an advocate, and a whistleblower on value and performance of the brand promise.

Now, all participants in the trust economy will want to provide and receive guarantees that include cleanliness. How can we be assured that our meal, our room, our seat, our offices—and the people interacting with these—will be free of pandemic germs? Who will provide these guarantees? Many industries like hospitality already have rigorous standards for cleanliness and health—but how will the community “rate” them? Who will we trust for that rating or review? And, will we now ask for more stringent verification of the raters?

While this will initially be a challenge for the reopening of businesses and renewed social interaction, it will also be an amazing opportunity for new standards, new systems, and new technology to put the customer’s mind at ease and for brands to build deeper loyalty with consumers. Last week, Emirates Airlines announced rapid COVID-19 testing of all passengers boarding a flight from Dubai to Tunis, an example of how to instill immediate trust for passengers and flight crew. Companies who will use technology to provide measurable guarantees of health and safety, as well as ways for the community to “self-police”, will increase consumer confidence and emerge as leaders in our post-COVID economy.

Tech security—are you watching me, or watching out for me?

Trust in technology and tech companies is another sector where a dramatic shift has occurred. In February, trust in tech companies was at an all-time low, yet that has turned around during this crisis as tech companies provide valuable (and reliable) tools and resources regarding the virus—and donate millions of dollars to relief efforts.

Over the last few weeks, an exponential number of people have joined the digital world who are not accustomed to data and system security solutions like technology companies are. This radical shift in the delivery of critical content and services (education, healthcare) from offline to online channels has highlighted vulnerabilities—and yes, opportunities, for the providers of those products. While some of these services may return to their pre-COVID state, it is more likely that the future will be a hybrid of content and service delivery matched to the best channel (online vs offline).

Telemedicine is a great example. The rapid adoption of telehealth solutions for medical consultations during COVID has proven that there is great value in this service for both physicians and patients. In this interview with the CEO of InTouch Health, a virtual care platform provider, it’s exciting to hear how quickly these “highly productive, highly efficient” virtual healthcare solutions are scaling, and the opportunities for growth moving forward with numerous new use cases.

For adoption to increase and remain post-COVID, it’s essential that digital interactions transpire with guaranteed data and system security; whether it’s teachers and students or physicians and patients, people will be looking to the brands that provide the software, hardware, and networks to be watching out for them…not watching them. These companies have an exquisite opportunity to excel by building security—hence trust—into the offering and the brand promise.

Employers—Do I work for you or with you?

Companies of all sizes, their leadership teams, and their boards are still reacting to the violent tempest that just hit—and the employer/employee relationship is being pressure tested like never before. Steps and actions taken today will determine many nuances of a company’s future reputation, including the resulting level of trust between the employer and the employee. That trust—strong or weak—will seep through to the customer’s perception of the brand and their willingness to engage with it, both now and when the economy reprises.

Now and post-COVID, companies and their leaders need an extra dose of empathy, humanity, and authenticity. Protecting employees by ensuring safe and clean work environments and providing health benefits (even in a time of crisis) is just the start. To be leaders, companies should be offering tools and resources for employees to work from home more effectively, access to online education to train or retrain for an increasingly digital future, and new guidelines for conducting business in a more virtual environment. Similarly, they should be maintaining their commitments to diversity, inclusion, and environmental sustainability—even in times of commercial contraction. The benefits they will reap include a more highly engaged employee base who will demonstrate dedication to the brand, the mission, and the commercial sustainability of the organization. This trust and integrity in the employer/employee relationship will translate to good ethics for consumers, and give them faith that the package delivered, the food prepared, or the service provided is an extension of that commitment.

As noted in the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer report, trust in a company for customers is a combination of competency and ethics, and ethical drivers are three times more important than competency. As such, boards and leadership teams should seriously consider their trust-building approaches to ensure their long-term viability post-COVID.