Survey Reveals Businesses Are Out of Touch With How Much Employees and Consumers Actually Trust Them

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On June 15, PwC — which dedicates itself to helping organizations build trust and deliver sustained outcomes — released its 2022 Consumer Intelligence Series Survey on Trust and revealed that 84% of business executives think employee trust is high, while only 69% of employees say they trust companies. As for consumers, the gap is even wider, with 87% of business executives believing consumers highly trust their company, versus only 30% of consumers who feel the same.

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Wes Bricker, Vice Chair – US Trust Solutions Co-Leader, PwC, told GOBankingRates that ultimately, businesses think they are more trusted by consumers and employees than they actually are, because they are not prioritizing what these stakeholders find most critical to winning their trust.

“Both consumers and employees say their top two trust drivers are affordable products and services and treating employees well,” Bricker said. “However, businesses can’t be all things to all people. To effectively build trust, business leaders should focus on the foundational elements that resonate the most with their employees and consumers like affordable products/services and treating employees well.”

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The survey found that businesses are focusing on environmental goals and larger societal issues, whereas employees and consumers are prioritizing what directly impacts them. For employees, the top trust drivers include companies that treat them well (47%) and quality products and services (22%). For consumers, the top drivers are similar, at 33% and 34%, respectively.

PwC noted that trust, or the loss of it, can affect customer revenue and employee loyalty, and that leaders should invest in active strategies to foster trust and listen carefully to stakeholders.

In fact, Mohamed Kande, Vice Chair – US Consulting Solutions Co-Leader, PwC, noted that “71% of consumers said they’re unlikely to buy from a company if it loses their trust, and of that group, 73% say they would spend significantly less.” To combat this, business leaders can focus on the basics of what matters most to employees and consumers, he added.

“Our survey indicates that both groups highly value affordable products/services (likely due to inflation and economic uncertainty) and want to see businesses treat their employees well. Prioritizing these two areas is a way to limit trust fallout. And we’re seeing this within our own four walls. PwC recently announced a new people strategy called My+ following months of interviews with current employees and alumni,” Kande explained. “We are focused on giving our employees flexibility, choice and the power to build personalized careers. The bottom line is that it is much easier to lose trust than to gain it. As a result, it’s important that businesses be proactive in their efforts to maintain customer and employee trust. It’s about listening to what those two stakeholder groups say matters to them most.”

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Another key finding of the survey outlined the industries which lost the most trust. They include public service/government (37%); tech, media telecom (33%); health industries (24%); and financial services (22%).

Kande said that these findings were not entirely surprising when you consider the United States’ increasingly polarized political views. “Our research shows that authenticity and transparency are key factors in building trust. This goes hand-in-hand with the wants of consumers and employees,” he said.

Asked what the most surprising finding was, Bricker said that it was the jarring gap in the perception of trust between businesses and both their employees and consumers, as it shows that business leaders currently believe they are more trusted than they actually are, and overestimate how strong their connections are with their customers and employees.

“That means leaders are investing their time, effort and money in areas that aren’t likely moving the trust needle for consumers and customers. A shift in recognizing and really honing in on what employees and customers value and consider as top trust drivers will likely allow business leaders to better invest in trust-building efforts that deliver results,” he said.

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In terms of what has changed the most compared to their 2021 survey, it’s how business leaders are highly prioritizing suppliers, Bricker said. “This attitude change is reflective of the current environment where businesses are feeling the pressure from empty shelves and the inability to fulfill consumer demand. Business leaders are recognizing that building trusting relationships with suppliers is essential to fulfilling both consumer and employee expectations,” he added.

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Finally, there are steps companies can take to build or re-build the trust. One piece of advice, according to PwC, is to treat employees like customers. Kande explained that as employees and customers are neck and neck in demanding business leaders’ prioritization — while customers are still the top priority for stakeholders — employees are close behind in the number 2 spot.

“Given this shift, there is a blurring of the line between customers and employees, where employees are becoming more like another set of customers,” Kande said. “PwC has recognized this blurring of the line by working to treat employees more like customers via the new My+ strategy. The Great Resignation and ongoing demand for talent has played a role in shifting business leaders to place their employees as a key priority stakeholder. Many businesses are feeling the pressure to attract talent and retain their existing talent in the current competitive labor market, and providing employees with a more customer-like experience is a way to ensure talent retention and hiring.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.

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