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Trust has leapt to the top of every business agenda. As leaders navigate the uncertainty of the “new normal”, trust has become paramount across all key stakeholder groups. In an increasingly digital, virtual world, even more effort has to be made to build confidence when face-to-face communication isn’t possible. At the same time, regulations and compliance issues are growing ever tighter, making it a legal obligation for businesses to operate in a trustworthy matter.

But it’s one thing to talk about trust as an abstract ideal, going no further than well-meaning nods around the boardroom table. Actually putting it into practice is a challenge – particularly for smaller organisations with fewer resources. But there are specific steps that every business should take to ensure they build the confidence needed in the digital economy.

Set clear ethical standards

Develop and publish a manifesto of key ethical principles and ensure that everyone from the CEO down “walks the talk”. Make these prominent on the company website and in recruitment and onboarding processes. 

Experiments have shown that people are more likely to be honest when they commit to telling the truth before filling out a form. In another simulation, MBA students who completed an ethics checklist were more alert about a fraudulent investment fund. So, headline your principles as much as you can and keep them top of mind. Don’t let them be buried in the fine print.

Partner with trustworthy partners

Everyone is interconnected in the digital world, and you can’t afford a weak link in the chain. Your vendor/supplier/distributor/IT partner’s problem is your problem. Your reputation is at stake, and you may even be legally liable (e.g. for a data breach). Carry out robust due diligence on any new partners and beware of any red flags. Long-term strategic alliances with the right partner will be of far greater benefit to a business than the cheapest cowboy on the block.

Outsource data security and privacy

For an SMB, managing regulatory areas such as data protection and cyber security isn’t always practical. You likely don’t have a full IT department or legal department. By outsourcing functions such as payments and hosting to a trusted and reputable cloud provider, you can benefit from the commercial-grade security and regulatory compliance usually only accessible to large enterprises.

Make all processes transparent

Customers increasingly expect full visibility with the fulfilment process. Once they’ve paid, particularly with the higher value online transactions made since lockdowns, if it “all goes dark”, people start to lose trust. This is even more of a problem with the supply chain disruption that COVID has wrought. Find a platform that offers transparency and interactive feedback throughout and beyond the customer journey.

Be available 24/7

We live in a 24/7 society. Even if you don’t have international customers, you may have customers who do shift work or are temporarily overseas. Having no means of contact until “Business Hours, Monday to Friday” is stressful. 

Provide a range of ways for customers to contact you: phone, email, online chat, as well as a comprehensive FAQ covering common questions. Ensure that there’s always a human available or at least the commitment to provide a human response within a set time period – use off-shore call centres as a backup to your regular helpdesk if needed. 

Avoid using communication services that go through as a “private number”, as these raise suspicions about spam calls and make it impossible for someone to know you’ve called.

Get an outside view

Internal audits are one thing, but they may not always uncover issues. For example, staff may be reluctant to speak to someone inside the company about a problem colleague or manager or unethical activity. 

Just as it’s good practice to have external financial audits, HR audits, and sustainability audits are also becoming increasingly common. Not only does this give a business independent credibility, but it also helps uncover issues and areas of improvement that weren’t detected internally. 

2022 will be the Year of Trust, from ensuring that employees are vaccinated to assuring customers that their personal information is safe and secure. Building trust will now be a significant competitive advantage. Because as regulations and standards concerning data management, disclosure, accountability and sustainability are set, what may just be “good practice” at the moment will likely become a legal obligation in the future.

Read more: Relationships: As valuable as the bottom line.

Read more: Why empathy and trust underpin all successful business relationships

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Charlie Wood

Charlie Wood

Charlie is the CEO of Wiise. With 25+ years of tech experience, including leadership roles at Salesforce, Microsoft and Dropbox, he has also built and mentored several startups through fundraising, product market fit and scalable go to market activity. Charlie is an avid adventurer and enjoys mountaineering, skiing, and sailing.

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