, ,

PwC 2023 Trust Survey Shows Why Trust is the Centerpiece of Business

WM Circle Logo

By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on April 21, 2023

Loyalty Marketers should take the findings into account as they plan 2023 strategy

Editor’s note: The Crypto Story is a 40,000 word treatise that not everyone has time to read and digest. Fortunately the Editors at Bloomberg were kind enough to distill the article into a consumable set of highlights that you can find here (paywall warning).

The world revolves around trust.

Bloomberg financial reporter Matt Levine wrote a massive examination and analysis of Crypto currencies that begins with a premise that “Modern life consists in large part of entries in databases”, explaining that “money, homes, identities—almost everything about you is something that can be distilled into a database such as the ones controlled by banks, governments, and corporations.”

The key point that Levine raises about our database dependent lives is that none of it would work without Trust. People trust the institutions that manage these databases, and that trust is essential to maintain the stability of modern society.

Trust is important in business and consumer marketing as well. PwC recently released its 2023 Trust Survey highlighting that “one thing continues to hold true: business leaders, consumers and employees overwhelmingly agree that trust in business is imperative. In fact, 91% of business executives agree (50% strongly) that their ability to build and maintain trust improves the bottom line.”

Some key findings from the report include:

  • Consumers say the most important trust-building actions are protecting their data (79% cite it as very important), quickly responding to and resolving their concerns (74%) and delivering a consistent and reliable customer experience (74%).
  • Employees say the most important trust-building actions are getting paid appropriately (80% cite it as very important), protecting their data (75%), communicating clearly (72%) and offering flexibility (66%).
  • Perhaps not surprising given the current economic environment, only 43% of consumers and 53% of employees say ‘purpose and values align with mine’ is very important.

We interviewed Chief Strategy and Communications Officer, J.C. Lapierre to learn more about the results of the survey and discover the details of why Trust continues to be essential to consumer marketing.

Wise Marketer (WM): Trust is the most important factor in creating a successful business – is that too strongly stated?

J.C. Lapierre: Not at all. For the third year in a row, our survey is very clear on this point. Business leaders, employees, and consumers all agree: trust is the currency of business right now. I think a way to look at it is that trust sits at the foundation of everything a business does. Creating that foundation and then, building upon it with trust embedded in each action helps create sustained value and, ultimately, increases the bottom line.

WM: There is a vast gap between the beliefs of executives and customers as to the level of trust that exists between business and customer. The numbers show the gap, but why do you believe that it exists?

J.C. Lapierre:

I think there are two main factors:

1) Trust doesn’t stand still. As stakeholder expectations constantly shift, trust is a moving target. Business leaders tend to oversimplify the complexity of building trust in today’s multi-stakeholder environment where stakeholder expectations are often at odds. Balancing divergent stakeholder perspectives is a top challenge when it comes to building trust, second only to company culture. Businesses are still working to develop the agility they need to sustain trust in this multi-stakeholder environment.

2) Our survey also found that consumers tend to identify a trust-busting crisis in smaller and more personal terms than business leaders do—a bad customer service experience, hidden fees, a faulty product, difficulty with a return or delivery issues. In today’s society, a company’s brand is synonymous with the customer experience—at each little point in their interaction with the company. That means a company’s brand is a collection of many different data points consumers have compiled from personal experience, social media, the news, and personal conversations. It’s possible to lose trust along any one of those touchpoints. That’s why it’s more important than ever that what a company says matches what it does, at each point along the customer journey.

WM:  I’m surprised that the trust gap between the company and employees is “smallish”. With the recent economic turmoil, layoffs, and struggles over return-to-work issues, I thought that employee trust might be fading to a lower level. Why do you think it is as strong as it appears?

J.C. Lapierre:

The unprecedented convergence of so many major, generation-defining events in the last few years has caused businesses to rethink their workforce strategy from top to bottom. The need for businesses to prioritize their people is real, and we believe it is here to stay. Executives recognize that and are leaning into flexibility, personalization, and more empathetic communications.

So while it’s true that situations like layoffs can cause serious harm to employees’ trust, our survey showed that when businesses prioritize empathy, transparency and clear, decisive communications, they can continue to build trust even in a difficult situation (for example, employees pointed to generous severance packages (57%), encouraging managers to increase communications with the remaining team members (58%) and being more transparent about the rationale for a round of layoffs (57%) as trust-building actions employers can take during a round of layoffs).

WM: Communication always seems to rise to the top of the list when considering how to enhance or build relationships. How would you recommend that companies create and execute better/stronger communications with employees to build trust?

J.C. Lapierre:

Since trust is a business’ most valuable currency, savvy business strategy needs to have communications sitting at the table and by its side. What that looks like in practice is deeply listening to stakeholders, understanding their expectations, sharing where your strategy is going and how you will bring them along and doing so through clear, disciplined, and empathetic communications.

Something we’ve also seen many organizations do successfully is reflecting upon and reminding people of their organizational values. A company’s values are a great way to bring people together and encourage compassion in a challenging environment. Ultimately, it comes down to matching your words with your actions both internally and externally.

WM:  The finding that only 50% of consumers and employees say companies should only take a stance on social issues if they are related to their core business is interesting. Could it be related to brand authenticity contrasted with brands adopting positions just to match up with current trends? Patagonia taking a stance on climate change makes perfect sense. Another brand with no connection to the environment that takes a climate stance might seem inauthentic. Can you comment further on this?

J.C. Lapierre:

Consumers are paying attention—deviation from your purpose and values is getting easier and easier to spot. That’s why a business’ purpose needs to be their north star for any major strategic decision, including taking a stance on social issues. Our survey certainly supports that view, especially in an environment of increasing polarization and competing stakeholder needs.

At PwC, our efforts to make a meaningful difference in the communities in which we live and work ties directly back to our purpose: to build trust in society and solve important problems. We are always listening to understand which issues matter most to our stakeholders and measuring them against the connection to our business and mission.

WM: Protecting data and providing better CX are the most important factors in earning consumer trust. We recognize the importance here and fully agree. What else can you add to this?

J.C. Lapierre:

Trust is a two-way street. We can’t ask for our clients’ or our people’s trust without expecting the same in return. Protecting personal data and delivering a meaningful client experience are fundamental to earning and maintaining that trust. In a world where every client and every employee have a megaphone in the form of social media, when you break that trust with one stakeholder, the effects can reverberate across your entire stakeholder map. Trust doesn’t happen in a silo. So, getting these fundamentals right becomes even more important in this environment.

WM: The governance and monitoring of AI is interesting. Is it a response to the “data protection” matter noted above? Do you think this is a particularly hot topic given the popularization of Open AI/Chat GPT?

J.C. Lapierre:

We’re seeing artificial intelligence everywhere these days—and there’s no denying that AI is changing the way businesses operate. As businesses use it more and more, it’s critical that they’re contemplating trust as they implement it, and being trustworthy, fair and responsible. AI is an area ripe for building trust—and also, for losing it.

It’s clear from our survey that there’s a lot more to be done to earn trust in this area, both through a business’ actions and how they are communicating with stakeholders around this emerging topic. For example, over the next 12 months, only one third (35%) of executives say their business will engage in one of the these trust-building actions around AI: improving the governance of AI systems and processes; confirming AI-driven decisions are interpretable and easily explainable; monitoring and reporting on AI model performance; and protecting AI systems from cyber threats and manipulations.

WM: Building trust starts “at home” or in the office. Sounds like employees were skeptical about their company's approach to avoiding a trust-damaging event. Can you comment on how listening could have increased the trust factor?

J.C. Lapierre:

Earning trust really comes down to what’s important at any given moment—so what it takes to build it is constantly shifting. One of the most effective ways that businesses can earn and maintain trust is by listening, all the time, starting within their own four walls. Our people have their ears to the ground and can help point our attention in the right direction. At PwC, we are constantly looking for ways to build upon our culture of listening and adapt where needed.