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Reversing the Customer Trust Deficit

Reversing the Customer Trust Deficit

by David Ducharme and Andrew Robertson

Story Highlights

  • Customer trust has been in decline for years
  • Organizations must rethink their approach to customer retention
  • Earn Gen Z trust with investment in your mission and empowered employees

For all the workplace trends nabbing headlines over the last few years, one trend with far-reaching effects and implications hasn’t garnered much attention yet: the growing deficit in customer trust.

Gallup’s annual measure of public trust in U.S. institutions has been on the decline, with sharp downturns across many industries -- including big business and banks -- from 2021 to 2022.


The unfortunate result of this dissipating trust across industries is that it affects all businesses. And it isn’t just customer trust that’s scarce -- customer satisfaction has been on the decline as well. The American Customer Satisfaction Index reports a sharp decline in customer satisfaction since 2019.1

The drop in customer satisfaction makes sense. When a relationship suffers a breach of trust, it can influence every interaction in the future -- and even how people view past interactions. An experience that was previously satisfactory might now, upon further reflection, seem less than.

The truth is, when trust is lost, customers are less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt and more likely to view the relationship with a critical eye. And in today’s digitally connected world, consumers can share that critical perspective far and wide with just a few clicks.

To overcome a trust deficit, you can’t just keep doing what you’ve always done. Recovering lost ground demands change.


What’s contributing to the trust deficit?

So how did we get here? Shifting customer expectations have altered the landscape for most businesses and industries. From an increased awareness of and importance placed on your company’s mission and purpose (or lack thereof) and your organization’s environmental impact to the shift in the balance of power between customer and business, customer expectations are ever-evolving -- and organizations that don’t keep up will be left behind.

Greater access to information has shifted control to the customers’ hands.

The internet is the great equalizer. It has empowered customers with more knowledge than ever before. Price shopping, product reviews and service reviews are at customers’ fingertips -- even apps designed to help them sort through all of that information. The days of a customer walking into a store to make a large purchase without doing any research first are all but a relic.

And social media has given customers a megaphone to communicate with the general public (i.e., current and potential customers, C-level executives, potential applicants, current employees, current vendors). Access to such a large platform for customers can result in heartwarming stories that amplify brand engagement just as easily as havoc when customers share negative experiences.

Customer expectations are ever-evolving -- and organizations that don’t keep up will be left behind.

Companies have failed to keep up with shifting expectations from millennials and Gen Z.

As of 2021, Gallup’s research showed that Gen Z and young millennials made up nearly half of the full-time U.S. workforce -- a share that is only growing with each year as more baby boomers exit the workforce. As employees, they prioritize purpose and social elements more highly than did generations that came before them -- and they’re no different as customers.

When Gen Z customers learn a brand supports a social cause or is viewed as socially responsible, 85% say they trust the brand more, 84% say they are likely to purchase the brand’s products, and 82% say they are likely to recommend that brand to their friends and family.2 Yet, most organizations still lack an authentic mission and purpose: A 2022 Gallup study found that just three in 10 employees strongly agree the mission or purpose of their company makes them feel their job is important.3

And we are seeing the impact of the growing Gen Z and millennial generations in B2B. Sixty percent of B2B tech buyers are now millennials -- and this generation is two times more likely than older generations to discover products and brands online.4 Gen Z customers are close behind, along with their intense focus on purpose and social causes.

An organization’s future success depends on whether they’re able to connect with this young and growing share of the market.

Employees are no longer empowered to delight customers.

A great customer experience requires a smooth process and experience with technology, but most important are those less common -- yet critical – human-to-human interactions. Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel empowered to create magic in those moments: Only 23% of U.S. workers believe their organization always delivers on the promises it makes to customers.5

On the other hand, employees who are connected to their workplace’s culture or who are engaged are four times as likely to strongly agree their organization always delivers on the promise it makes to customers.6 The employee experience directly affects the customer experience -- for ill or good.

What can leaders do to address this?

Embrace and lead with your authentic higher mission and purpose.

Change the narrative by leaning in to your organization’s core values and purpose. We know that young millennials and Gen Z genuinely care about brand values and are more selective about who they do business with, so embrace your values and find ways to share them with customers transparently. Don’t just tell customers about your values -- embody them in decision-making at every level, from interactions with staff to customers.

Make your human interactions with customers count.

Technology is a wonderful way to reduce friction when customers have a need. And it’s a great solution for meeting customers’ expectations that an organization be “always on” -- but it does not create magic or authentically generate a connection to your brand. Very few customers have closed an app, smiled to themself and walked away with a deeper psychological connection to the brand. Human interactions with customers, when done right, create magic that technology cannot replicate. When you have the opportunity to indulge in those moments, seize it.

Empower your people to deliver magic to customers.

If most employees don’t agree that their company delivers on its brand promise to customers, how must the customers feel? Start by revisiting what your brand promise is. Check in with your employees to see where they feel unable to deliver on that promise, and develop action items to bridge those gaps.

Human interactions with customers, when done right, create magic that technology cannot replicate.

Disrupt the decline in customer satisfaction.


Andrew Robertson is a Principal at Gallup

Jessica Schatz contributed to this article.


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