Why only trusted companies will survive

In the post-truth age, where borders blur between facts and fiction, fake news thrives and the institutional pillars that underpin our society seem to be cracking, it might feel overly optimistic to talk about a bright future for trust. Especially for businesses, which appear to be on the brink of distrust. Nevertheless, we might be witnessing the beginning to the end of distrusted companies.

Trust is key to any business. It is the fundamental currency that enables transactions. Without trust, you wouldn’t be able to perform even the most banal everyday transaction. Think about it: Would you, for instance, be willing to share your bank details with a company that you didn’t trust? Probably not. Businesses can’t breathe without trust.

On that note, you would think that all the bad apples have been weeded out – but we all know that isn’t the case. Scams, fraud and dishonesty are still very much a part of everyday business life, further fuelling what seems to be a widening trust gap.

Part of the trust deficit businesses face today originates from one of the greatest business opportunities of all time; the internet. In the pre-internet age, some form of personal interaction was often required for a transaction to occur. With the advent of the internet, that gap was filled. Suddenly, you could buy a book in Bolivia or a desk in Denmark in a matter of minutes – and then just wait, probably a whole lot longer, for the delivery. Distance was no longer a fundamental barrier. But in an environment with a sudden abundance of choice and lack of personal interaction, another challenge occurred; the trust gap.

Being able to do business with companies that you may never have heard of sparked a natural question: Can I trust them? And for good reason. As businesses flocked to take advantage of the potential of online business, the world wide web in many ways turned into the wild wild west. Bad businesses had a window of opportunity to prey on the inherent trust of consumers.

Fast forward to today’s society where some businesses are still struggling to earn back the trust they seem to have lost. Some faring better than others. However, we’re already seeing solutions to the problem that could be the beginning to the end of dishonest businesses. But the solution to the trust gap might not come from businesses themselves.

For the first time, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, peers are as credible a source for information about a company as a technical or academic expert.

Today, people are turning to other people to cut through the noise – and it works. Just think about the world’s largest hotelier, AirBnB, the ridesharing company, Lyft, and the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. They’re all fueled by peer to peer legitimacy and probably wouldn’t exist without it.

This trend is being confirmed by extensive qualitative research that we’ve just finalized at Trustpilot in Europe and the U.S. We found that consumers want to feel like they matter, are listened to and can shape the world around them. We’ve entered a people-powered era where influence has truly shifted from businesses to consumers.

Connectedness has superseded persuasiveness and a brand is no longer defined by companies and their ad spend but rather by consumer experiences and their feedback.

Consumers now own and can take control of any company brand. Over time, they’ll steer away from companies that solely offer great choice but poor experience and move towards those that are able to offer both great choice and experience.

This doesn’t mean that consumers are looking for pure perfection. Instead, they’re looking for companies that care and truly make an effort. We all make mistakes but for good reason, we tend to forgive those who acknowledge when they haven’t fulfilled their promise and genuinely strive to improve.

Some are fighting the current trend of consumers owning company brands. Decentralized information can be scary to businesses who might be used to controlling it but given the current trust deficit, a clear way to create more scrutiny and transparency isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it brings hope and reassurance that only companies who strive to be more trustworthy will survive – and that will benefit us all.

by Peter Mühlmann, founder and CEO, Trustpilot