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Trust is a fragile thing

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Trust is a fragile thing. A report by the PR firm Edelman says that trust in the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus has soared from 36% to 60%. Boris Johnson’s recovery from a serious bout of the virus will have helped this figure with a significant sympathy vote. The government relies on trust if it wants its people to abide by its rules which it hopes will get us out of this unholy mess. Trust is something that the government needs and every company seeks. Trust builds acceptance and loyalty.

Trust is important to anyone who feels vulnerable. If you feel vulnerable you want to believe that someone in a position of power is making the right decisions. If you subsequently find out they have been misleading you, your trust will be blown away by an ill wind. There are many things we can learn from the UK government’s management of the Covid-19 crisis that can be applied to managing customers’ experiences.

Let’s start with a consideration of transparency and truth. The government’s daily briefing is a good idea. It keeps us, its customers, up to date with what is happening. It’s vital that what we are told in these daily briefings is accurate and truthful. Take for example the shortages of PPE. There can’t be many UK citizens that weren’t aware that there were serious deficiencies in providing PPE to front-line workers. And yet, the government kept assuring us that everything was fine. Yes, they admitted, we are mindful of the need to have large volumes of PPE, but don’t worry, we’ve already delivered 1 billion pieces. When it materialised that half this figure was made up of a separate count of individual gloves, it made us question how much we can trust what the government says. And when the government says, “don’t worry, tomorrow we will be delivering huge quantities of PPE ordered from Turkey”, we relaxed; until the next day when, surprise surprise, we learned that it hadn’t arrived. And when it finally did arrive, we were told that it can’t be used because it is to the wrong specification.

Imagine that we dealt with our customers in this way. We tell them that the order they have placed will be delivered tomorrow and then, when tomorrow comes, we dash their expectations with another excuse as to why they will not be receiving it. We all know what our customers would think in such a situation.

Let’s return again to the government and think about its transparency and honesty with the reporting of deaths from coronavirus. We roiled in horror when they exceeded 700 per day and yet continue to rise to even higher levels of 900 per day. And then we learned that this may be only half the real figures. Only we didn’t learn this from the government, we learned this from the press who reported what was happening in care homes. Even now, the government plays ducks and drakes with the figures and we really don’t know how bad the care home situation it is. We really don’t know the true number of Covid-19 deaths that have occurred in the UK.

Imagine that we dealt with our customers in this way. We know that we have had quality problems and our customers know this too because they buy our products. However, we spin them a positive story and tell them not to worry because the quality problem is under control. What would they think when they find out that we have deliberately been bending the truth?

The government has from the beginning told us that wearing masks is going to make little difference to the spread of the virus. They say this despite the fact that across the whole of Asia they think differently. What do they know even though they have suffered SARS and Mers and went through the Covid-19 virus before us? Doesn’t it make sense that even though masks may not be perfect in filtering out every particle of the virus, if everyone wore them it could reduce the possibility of infection by up to 20%. We know that social distancing isn’t perfect and yet we are told to do it. We know that the lockdown cannot totally prevent the virus penetrating our homes, and yet we are told to do it. Is it just possible that the government’s view on the wearing of masks is nothing to do with their efficacy, it is simply because there aren’t enough to go round? So, we are told a porky.

Imagine that we dealt with our customers in this way. Our customers complain about a particular issue with our product and ask for an improvement. What would they think if we tell them the product is fine, they shouldn’t worry, it is the best there is? And then, a few months later we tell them that we have made the improvement and here is version 2, the latest, greatest and flawless product ever made. When next they hit a problem with version 2, what will our customers think and believe?

When the coronavirus first showed its ugly self on our shores, we heard from Taiwan and Singapore where they had successfully managed the situation. They told us the importance of absolute transparency in order to build the trust of our people. The 60% of the population that currently trust the British government in handling the coronavirus situation is impressive, but how long will it last? Transparency and truth are fundamental to trust in government policy and they are vital in ensuring great customer experience.


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