One wonders, in the midst of hacking and security breaches, if the word trust is used in executive meetings and boardrooms. Do leaders of companies have any understanding of the elements of trust and how much value consumers place upon it? Do leaders think of trust, which is intangible, as a corporate asset?
Some do. Apple CEO Tim Cook has spoken on this topic. His actions and the decisions made by the company reflect the value they place on our trust. Apple has been steadfast, even when some were inflamed by their refusal to part with data when commanded to do so by the U.S. government.
In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Cook said, “You are not our product. Our products are iPhones and iPads. We treasure your data. We wanna help you keep it private and keep it safe.” Cook refers to the issues in data privacy as a crisis. He understands what most leaders do not. Consumers do not willingly give up privacy. Checking the box on a website isn’t consent. It is acquiescence.
Assume Trust At Your Peril
Most leaders, overseeing growing and profitable businesses, assume they are trusted. A breach, such as the infamous one at Equifax, ignites massive cries about poor technology infrastructure, lax internal controls, etc. A recent article by Matthew Schwartz in Bank Info Security® states that the current cost estimates for the Equifax debacle are $1.35 billion. Successful legal challenges could drive this much higher.
When leaders and boards of directors think about risk, they need to consider that the costs of mistakes involve damaged trust. Once trust is violated, a few things make it worse. Knowing what they are should lead to prevention. Sadly, it rarely does.In a crisis, a leader who cannot relate to the disappointment of customers is unable to respond with sincerity. Click To Tweet
How To Reduce Risk
- Know what business you are in. Most leaders say they know what business they are in but few can say it concisely and fewer make decisions based on it. Many businesses, fueled by technology, are lulled into collecting and storing massive amounts of data without knowing why. Leaders, especially board members, need to ask questions and demand answers that are logical and reflect rigorous thought.
- Don’t romanticize trust. Trust is rarely global; we trust particular people and companies for particular things. USAA is a trusted resource for financial products for military, former military and their families. In their domain, they are exceptional. Why? They deliver products and services with operational excellence, they are credible and empathetic when it’s called for but not until it’s called for.
- Be honest with customers and other partners. Tell people what information you are collecting and why. What will you do with the data? What will you not do?
- Address mistakes and errors head on. When a crisis occurs, even if others tell you “It isn’t that bad”, face it. Denial is far more common in business than most think and leads to very bad decisions, loss of trust, and sometimes the demise of leaders and businesses. The antidote? Courage.
- Banish insincerity. The phrase “Your privacy is very important to us” has the same empty ring as the voice message heard when calling most every business. “Your call is very important to us” is most always followed by a string of messages that tell us differently. If your business involves face-to-face interactions, teach employees that eye contact is essential to establishing a genuine interaction.
When leaders are removed from the core of their business and don’t understand the needs and wants of customers and other stakeholders, their decisions are made with incomplete information. In a crisis, a leader who cannot relate to the disappointment of customers is unable to respond with sincerity. Apple’s CEO knows what business he is in, speaks directly to the expectations of customers and shows courage. He is trusted for good reasons.