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Trust in an organization or brand has become an important differentiator and a lever of high performance—just at a time when consumer trust in business has hit an all-time low.
In this article, Accenture Sustainability Services examines the business value of trust and identifies four key imperatives that companies need to address to build trust.
Trust may seem like a vague and intangible notion, but its value in today’s economy is decidedly real and concrete. Nothing is more fundamental to a healthy business than the belief by consumers, the public, investors, regulators, suppliers and stakeholders that they are doing business with a trustworthy organization. The underlying assumption is that an organization will deliver on its promises, and behave consistently and fairly.
Research shows that consumers and organizations make purchasing decisions based on trust: the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that 77 percent of participants had refused to buy a product or service from a distrusted company. The trouble is that the public’s mistrust of business is at an all-time low. For example, survey by the Pew Research Center showed that only 25 percent of Americans trust large corporations.
In order to begin rebuilding trust, businesses first need to understand what makes for a trusted organization. From its work with global clients, research on leading practice and industry benchmarking, Accenture finds that leading companies build trust by actively and creatively managing their relationships with all their major constituencies.
The most visible point of trust is the customer. Trust-conscious companies work on the premise that the trust associated with a brand can be a compelling reason for consumers to choose it. These companies create and consistently deliver a brand experience that meets customer expectations and aligns with their strategies.
Companies must meet a broad range of stakeholder expectations which is set to grow in the coming years. In this emerging environment, they have to balance the benefits they bring to society with the imperative to make profits.
Striking this balance successfully is a complex and ongoing effort but in many ways the company’s future depends on it. Building trust provides an organization with its license to operate by its adherence to policies and regulations. But beyond that, trust can also support a company’s license to innovate and grow, through actions that stakeholders perceive add value to the society and environment in which the business operates.
The essential first step in building trust and unleashing value for the organization is to recognize trust as a driver of high performance, and to manage it with the same rigor as the rest of the business. To achieve the pinnacle of high performance, where trust delivers corporate and social benefits, organizations will need to address four key imperatives:
Stakeholders. Go beyond focusing on consumers to proactively manage trust across all stakeholders.
Strategy. Go beyond communications and integrate trust strategies across the entire organization.
Measurement. Measure inputs and outputs of trust strategies to improve return on investment for both business and society.
Capabilities. Invest in organizational, individual and cultural capabilities to embed trust at the core of the business strategy.
One final message is that trust-building has to be seen as a long-term activity. Rather, it requires a cultural shift that pulls the whole organization into its orbit.
Accenture Sustainability Services is already working with clients to help them maximize the value of trust and attain high performance.
Peter Lacy is the managing director of Accenture Sustainability Services in Europe, Africa and Latin America. He has spent more than a decade working with governments and Fortune 500 companies on sustainability strategy, policy and delivery. He has also led several of the world’s largest research programs on sustainability. Lacy speaks regularly about sustainability and has been a member of advisory boards for businesses, academic institutions and public-sector organizations such as the European Union and the United Nations.
Lay Lim Teo is country managing director for Accenture in Singapore. She is also the managing director for Accenture Sustainability Services, responsible for the Asia Pacific region. In this role, Lay Lim helps clients understand how to get more from sustainability—integrating specific approaches into their business strategies, embedding sustainability into the operating models, value chains and culture of their organizations to help them move effectively from issues to outcomes.
Susan Piotroski is senior executive in Accenture’s Customer Relationship Management practice and offering lead for Market and Customer Strategy. She assists clients in driving profitable growth through the development and execution of high-impact customer-focused business strategies including the critical role of brands. She has worked across a wide range of industries (business-to-consumer and business-to-business) to help clients assess opportunities to improve brand strength, differentiate from competition and design the full end-to-end customer experience to deliver on the brand promise and build strong emotional bonds and long-term loyalty with customers.
Jane Cowling leads the Sustainability practice within the life sciences industry for the United Kingdom. She has 14 years of experience in pharmaceutical consulting, across research and development and commercial organizations in many of the major pharmaceutical companies in both North America and Europe. She works with clients to develop and implement sustainable trust and stakeholder management strategies, as well as leading broader organization strategy and design initiatives.
September 21, 2011
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