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The world today is suffering from an implosion of trust. That’s the big takeaway from this year’s Trust Barometer, an annual Edelman study on credibility and trust. The report found that for the first time in 17 years, people’s trust declined in all four major types of institutions: media, government, NGOs and businesses. In almost two-thirds of the 28 countries included in the study, the general population didn’t trust the four institutions to do the right thing.

The 2017 Trust Barometer offers a bleak picture, but, as we discuss below, it also offers clear recommendations on how companies should move forward.

While the public has more trust for businesses than government, companies have a lot of room for improvement. Only 52 percent of those surveyed indicated that they have faith in businesses, according to Edelman. The credibility of CEOs also took a big hit this year, falling by 12 points to 37 percent.

Given the overall public sentiment, the business world must act now. Kathryn Beiser, global chair of Edelman’s corporate practice, says “business is the last retaining wall for trust.” She warns that if businesses disappoint the public, they’ll fall victim to “the rising tide of dissatisfaction” that has impacted many governments.

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, says businesses are in a unique position to help rebuild trust in all institutions. He explains, “The onus is now on business, the one institution that retains some trust with those skeptical about the system, to prove that it is possible to act in the interest of shareholders and society alike.”

3 ways for companies to regain customer trust

The 2017 Trust Barometer asked 33,000 respondents around the world to rate the company attributes that lead to trust. The survey’s results show that trustworthy companies treat their employees well, offer high quality products and services, and listen to customers.

2017 Trust Barometer reminds companies to engage customers and employees

In her analysis of the report, Beise explains how employee engagement leads to trust. “Listening to and engaging employees is a fundamental step,” she says. “If the majority of people around the world believe the system isn’t working, businesses should assume that their employees are a subset of this population.”

In addition to harnessing employee insight, brands must engage their customers in a two-way dialogue. “The best companies are already deeply listening to and strategically acting on insights from their employees, customers and other stakeholders,” says Matthew Harrington, global chief operating officer of Edelman. Companies must re-examine their business models and culture, according to Harrington, and move from a top-down model to a customer-led approach.

"The best companies are already deeply listening to and strategically acting on insights from their employees, customers and other stakeholders."

Of course, listening isn’t enough. Customers will ultimately judge a company based on its action. Businesses must show that customer feedback has made tangible impact. The survey indicates that one way of doing that is by producing high-quality products and services. That’s easier said than done, but companies that have a deep understanding of customer needs and wants are better positioned to exceed their expectations.

Close the trust gap

Edelman’s findings on the decline of trust are consistent with what other experts are saying. The research firm Forrester also predicted that trust will become an important currency for doing business in 2017. The Trust Barometer reaffirms that regaining credibility should be a top priority for brands this year. Edelman’s study is an urgent call for businesses to put their trust in both their employees and customers in this era of uncertainty and to demonstrate to  these stakeholders that they truly matter.

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