Trust Is A Must For A Customer-Centric Culture

This post originally appeared on CMO.com. 

Business leaders are knee-deep in planning season. One question keeps coming up over and over again: “With all the things we could do to improve CX in 2018, what should be top priority?”

It’s not innovation, mobile, or artificial intelligence (AI). It’s trust–trust among the employees in your company. Why? Because trust, which is low in most organizations, is a catalyst for other culture changes that we need in CX:

• Higher empathy: Paul Zak, an expert on the biology of trust, has shown that employees in firms with high-trust cultures are 11% more empathetic (to each other and to customers) than those in low-trust cultures. He has also proved why: Trust and empathy are both driven by the same brain chemical–oxytocin.

• More collaboration: In his 2017 book “The Trust Factor,” Zak reveals that employees in high-trust companies aren’t just more empathetic–they’re 76% more engaged, too. And they feel 66% closer to colleagues, which helps them work together more effectively both within and across internal silos.  

• Less burnout: Stress levels are on the rise among U.S. knowledge workers. If you trust the people you work with, that stress gets easier to manage. People don’t waste energy worrying that a boss or co-worker will take credit for their ideas or throw them under the bus in a bad quarter.

• Happier customers: Firms that scored well on Zak’s “Ofactor” trust benchmark had customer satisfaction scores that were 96% higher than those that scored poorly, and their customers were 50% more loyal. And, according to Great Place To Work, high-trust companies have customer satisfaction scores that are 2.8 to 3.4 points higher than their low-trust competitors. 

A Give-To-Get Phenomenon
The best way to earn someone’s trust is to give them yours. At the corporate level, relax some rules. Grocery service Peapod has started letting workers carry their mobile phones onto the sales floor. At Airbnb, managers no longer have to approve expenses below $500. Productivity has gone up; spending hasn’t.

With individuals, the easiest way to build trust is to find common ground. Humans are more trusting of people we think are like us. The connection can be based on anything–age, gender, number of siblings, even which sport you played in high school. I live in greater Boston, where meeting someone else who grew up in the western part of the state is like finding a long-lost cousin. We aren’t actually related, but we’ve all felt ignored by natives of the Boston Metro area.

Trust also grows when people are willing to be more human, more vulnerable, at work. Why? Because to be vulnerable is to say, “I trust you not to use my weakness against me.”

There are many ways to show vulnerability. One big one, especially for leaders, is asking for help. Bank of Mellon CEO Gerald Hassell has a mentor more than 30 year his junior who helps him understand and use emerging technologies. She also helps him see strategic decisions from the millennial perspective. Employees at the Cleveland Clinic can ask for special emotional support during times of high stress or trauma by calling a “Code Lavender.” They wear a special bracelet so others know they’re struggling, and can take advantage of relaxation tools such as massage, music, and aromatherapy.

Another way to show vulnerability is to admit when you were wrong. Warren Buffet critiques himself in his letters to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders every year. It doesn’t hurt his credibility. If anything, it makes people trust him more. Humans are skeptical of others who seems too perfect.

Admitting when you’re wrong also helps you and others learn from the situation. And it boosts feelings of psychological safety. What’s that? It’s a sense that your company is a safe place to take risks. According to data from Google’s People Analytics team, psychological safety is what sets great teams apart from average ones. It’s also a must for any company that hopes to compete on the basis of CX innovation, which requires a higher tolerance for risk.

Not all forms of vulnerability have to be serious, though. Zak told me the story of a firm that puts childhood photos of each employee on their business cards–even the CEO’s. The goal isn’t to embarrass anyone. It’s to remind everyone that even the most powerful moguls were once goofy kids.  

These are just a few of the many ways to build trust in an organization. Stay tuned for more ideas and discussion of this topic in future posts.