The 4 traits of a trustworthy business, and why trust matters 

Is trust the new currency of business? And, if it is, what does it mean to earn and maintain a customer’s trust? In today’s uncertain times – with businesses, employees and customers all navigating strange new waters – trust has emerged as the foundation of successful business relationships. 

To explore the big topic of trust, we recently invited trust expert, renowned TED speaker and author Rachel Botsman to share her incredible insights with us. Rachel’s generous observations left us all thinking about what we do in business – and in life – to earn people’s trust.  

You can watch our webinar, The Business of Trust, on-demand (trust us, it’s definitely worth a watch). Or read on for our take on the science of trustworthiness, as defined by Rachel.

Trust, defined

First, let’s unpack what trust is. According to Rachel, it took a long time for her to arrive at a definition. “Trust is the most debated sociological concept. There are more definitions of trust than there are of love,” she said. “But like love, it’s a very deep human feeling. I define it as a confident relationship with the unknown.”

This ‘confident relationship with the unknown’ points to a curiosity, a willingness to try new things, to take risks. “If trust didn’t exist, we couldn’t innovate or change our behaviours,” said Rachel. 

With this in mind, there’s one thing that trust isn’t. Trust doesn’t equal transparency. “There’s an idea that transparency equals more trust. If your strategy is transparency, you’re actually in a low-trust state, because you’re saying everyone should know everything about what’s going on. While transparency is an effective tool, you don’t want to be a completely transparent organisation,” said Rachel. 

Exploring the science of trustworthiness

If trust is so important to innovation and relationship building, what does it look like? What does it mean to be trustworthy? We often use words like ‘trust’ and ‘trusted’ to describe aspirational states of being but, as Rachel explains, there’s a science behind it all. 

There are four traits in the science of trustworthiness. The first two, competence and reliability, are capability traits tied to how we do things. The second two, empathy and reliability, are character traits that relate to why we do things. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Competence

In evaluating a company’s competence, a customer would be thinking or asking, ‘Does this company have the skills and knowledge to do what they say they can do?’ Competence implies that you will create a good product or deliver a sound service. 

2. Reliability

The reliability of a brand or business relates to its ability to consistently perform well over time. A reliable company is one that customers can depend upon, again and again – not, as Rachel said, one that turns up full of enthusiasm at a first meeting but then lets you down in the long run.

3. Empathy

Empathy, the capacity to understand what other people are feeling, is highly valued in business today. Companies that show genuine empathy towards others will forge stronger, longer-lasting relationships than those who put their own interests first. 

4. Integrity

Integrity is the most important trait of a trustworthy business. Where there’s integrity, there’s great trust. Without it, trust quickly erodes. To evaluate your integrity, ask yourself, ‘Do your interests align with the best interests of the customer?’ Across everything from your contract terms and conditions, to customer service and pricing, if there is a misalignment of interest, customers won’t trust you.

Earning customers’ trust

Many companies – particularly those in industries like technology, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing – focus on building out their capability traits. This is an obvious, useful place to start. After all, you want to earn a reputation for dependable, reliable products or services, right? 

Yet, during the pandemic, the character-related traits of empathy and integrity became more important and more highly valued. Indeed, Rachel goes so far as to call integrity the North Star of trust. 

Today, businesses are judged upon all four traits. As Rachel said, they provide guiding logic when working out who to trust or, conversely, how to earn trust. “I’ve found the science of trustworthiness to be really helpful in my own life – it’s helped me make smarter decisions about who I trust, but also to understand when someone’s a bit wobbly with me, where the trust issue lies.”

This is all very sound advice indeed, which any business can use to help build bridges in these uncertain times. To learn more, watch our full webinar with Rachel Botsman now.

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