Trust is rooted in understanding.
People don’t yearn for better communication. They crave understanding.
When you meet people where they are, they will follow you far.
Communication is the tool. Trust is the goal.
Learning from the past
The events of 2008 and 2009 abound with lessons for communicators and business leaders alike, even now, almost five years later. The more we look back and analyze, the more we understand how the seeds of mistrust were sown during that period of extreme volatility. Our institutions of business and government were unprepared from a communications standpoint. Therefore, they were unable to ease consumer anxiety, which caused people to feel more vulnerable. By analyzing those mistakes, and understanding their impact, we see the path ahead for business. Now, more than ever, everything hinges on trust.
A chairman once said that no one cares about a company’s balance sheet until it matters. Then, it’s all they care about. The same can be said of trust and communication: no one cares about how we uphold trust through communication until it really matters. Then, it’s all that matters.
In business, scenario planning is applied to rational and functional activities: things like how to exit a building during a fire, or how to manage a company’s balance sheet in light of unforeseeable events. However, scenario planning is not applied to emotional and non-functional disciplines like trust. More to the point, businesses don’t assess the risk of breaking trust with their customers. In the absence of rigorous scenario planning, companies resort to what they know best during a crisis: providing rational explanations for emotional events. As a result, when communication is most needed, it fails most miserably.
The power of observation
During the worst days of the crisis, I learned the remarkable teaching power of objective observation. This is the listening and observing skill that Stephen Covey often taught. Essentially, we should do more than simply live through historic events, we should learn from them. In this way, objective observation can reveal the seeds of things to come.
For me, observation revealed the criticality of audience centricity, not customer centricity, which is ineffectively one-sided. Audience centricity focuses on customers and employees, and the way people relate to each other from both sides of a product. Through observation, I also identified a type of segmentation I call mindset segmentation because it distinguishes people based on their values, motivations, and expectations. And finally, I learned something I will reveal to you through this website: that trust has become the new currency of business.
Oftentimes, we think that keen observation requires searching for details, a process of looking under the obvious to find something real. We don’t place a high value on things that are obvious, possibly because they seem too simple. During the crisis, customers and employees were frightened. Unfortunately, that observation was too basic and possibly too emotional for serious business consideration. From an analytical standpoint, “fear” doesn’t fit on a spreadsheet, and there is no precedent for addressing fear in marketing or communication strategy. Because it doesn’t apply to existing business processes and frameworks, fear is cast aside.
Peter Drucker taught people to value the obvious. He said that the obvious is frequently the most difficult thing for people to recognize and embrace. Observations like “our customers are afraid,” can enable a business to capitalize on a tremendous market opportunity. If any financial services firm had managed to increase trust with customers during the crisis, its reputation would have benefited enormously.
It all comes down to listening, and the way we listen. First we must open our minds, then we can open our ears. Mr. Drucker explained how important these skills are in business. He said,
If you can detect what’s obvious, you tap into people’s greatest needs.
More to explore
Reach out and let me know what you’re thinking. I look forward to hearing from you.