A matter of trust.

On Monday, April 10, 2017, three Chicago police officers injured and dragged an unsuspecting passenger off of a United Airlines flight, citing the excuse the airline needed the seat for a United employee. The incident went viral and moral outrage was expressed from every quarter. To add aviation fuel to the fire, United CEO, Oscar Munoz, issued a statement justifying the removal and blaming the passenger. Again, more uproar. Finally, three days later, the airline apologized. But the damage had been done—trust in the airline was lost (I personally made a vow never fly United again). Sure, the passenger could have been more amenable to being tossed off the airplane, but that’s no reason to knock him unconscious, and it’s certainly bad policy that would even allow that in the first place.

Contrast this with an even sadder story. Back in the fall of 1982 there were a series of deaths caused by people taking the pain reliever Tylenol. Several people died in what became the “Tylenol Murders.” However that time, the company, Johnson & Johnson, reacted quite differently than United. They issued a nationwide recall of all Tylenol products, and in national media campaign, urged individuals not to consume any of its products, and offered refunds for products already purchased. Their market share went from 35 to 8% in the ensuing months. But J & J dug in and responded on several fronts, namely pioneering the innovation of tamperproof packaging and then reissuing their products with significant promotions and discounts. Trust was initially lost, but in a dramatic turn-around, doing all the right things, trust was rebuilt and their market share again exceeded all competitors.

Today we see companies like Wells Fargo, Google, and Facebook struggling to restore public trust. It’s an epidemic.

Yes, these are rather dramatic examples of trust lost, and trust regained, or gone forever. Ask yourself about your favorite brands, or the brands you use loyally time after time. On the surface you might purchase these products or services because practical reasons: price, quality, availability. But none of that would matter if you lost trust in the brand. Price and availability wouldn't matter anymore. If you didn't think the brand had your best interest in mind, you'd be less inclined to have anything to do with them.

My favorite airline is not the cheapest, but I trust them. I go to my doctor because I trust him. The auto mechanic I use is someone I trust. The bottom-line-reason I prefer any product or service over another is trust. And as I have pointed out, trust is so easy to lose, but so hard to build. We are living in a post-trust world*: trust can no longer be company slogan, it has be exhibited in their actions, or people just won’t buy it. Because of so many confidences broken, our innate proclivity to trust someone is gone. How many times have we heard the words "just trust me” in a movie when everyone in the audience knows they are not to be.

How do you build trust, and keep it? This is a huge simplification, but start by making sure you have the highest quality product or the best service. And treat customers like humans putting them first. Don't be afraid to be honest, transparent, even vulnerable. And above all be willing to admit you're wrong, and make it clear what you're doing to fix it. Don’t tell people you care, just do it. No one is hearing the words anymore, they are observing the actions.

Of course, being trustworthy is more than just the responsibility of corporations, it is a trait we should all strive for in our own lives. To quote Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice one more time, “My good opinion once lost, is lost forever.” Well, hopefully not forever.

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