Regaining Trust No Easy Task
Trust is the hardest thing to gain, the easiest to lose and the most difficult to win back once it’s gone.
The latest company to feel the loss of trust is Marriott, which announced a data breach of its Starwood brand reservations system that may have put as many as 500 million people at risk of having sensitive personal and financial information stolen over a four-year period.
It doesn’t matter what causes trust to be broken--a data breach, a fatality from eating tainted lettuce, sexual infidelity--the task of trying to regain it is monumental.
But it can be done.
While a swift and public apology is important, it’s less effective today since such mea culpas happen way too often, said Dale Weiss, senior vice president at crisis management firm CommCore Consulting Group.
More important, he said, is for organizations to continually communicate with all stakeholders, and to be ready to answer whatever difficult questions they have. “While this creates a natural tension between the lawyers and communicators, it demonstrates sincerity and commitment to change,” said Weiss.
Before a company can choose its course of action, it first must determine whether the risks that created the crisis were preventable--and whether steps were taken to prevent them, said Melissa Agnes, a crisis keynote speaker and author of the book “Crisis Ready.”
If an organization took all the appropriate safeguards to prevent the preventable and prepare for the unpreventable, any lost trust is more easily redeemed, she said.
“It’s when an organization does not take the appropriate safeguards—or worse, takes the time to evaluate...and decides the cost of mitigation outweighs the cost of fixing the problem--that the most impactful trust is lost,” said Agnes. “This lost trust comes at the highest of consequences because one of the sentiments attached to it is that it was taken for granted or abused.”
The path to rebuilding lost trust involves simultaneously taking the right actions and communicating effectively, said Agnes. This includes demonstrating a commitment to transparency; validating stakeholders’ emotions, and anticipating and addressing their key concerns and questions with emotional intelligence; and proactively taking the right corrective actions over a sustained period of time, knowing oftentimes the right corrective actions are not the easiest actions to take, she said.
“Typically, cynicism stems from people either not trusting that the organization will do the right thing or feeling angry and betrayed that it didn’t do the right thing to begin with,” she said. “The best way to move forward from here is to acknowledge that change needs to happen, validate people’s emotions, and commit to taking the right corrective actions to implement that change for the long term.”
It’s not just the public a company such as Marriott needs to win back, it has to show regulators it is taking fast action to improve its operations and show it is fixing the problems that were exposed, said Weiss.
“Both are equally important,” said Weiss, who added costs to Marriott may top $1 billion before the breach issue is resolved. “Swift action will help convince regulators and lawmakers that the company is working to strengthen its cyber defenses. Shareholders need to see that management is doing everything necessary to maintain its business during this time.”
Trust with regulators is earned and developed over time by continuously being in compliance with the regulations that apply to your industry and organization, said Agnes, adding there is an additional risk when it comes to the data industry.
“There are still so many question marks around the business of data, its privacy, and its protection,” she said. “Depending on the laws and regulations that will be formed in response to these question marks, there is a risk of major disruption to certain organizations’ businesses and business models.”
That said, the more these organizations work with lawmakers and regulators, educating them on the business of data and working with the public’s best interest in mind, the stronger the trust will be, and the more power they will have to be a part of the change, said Agnes.
“And the more they will have the opportunity to position themselves as a leader,” she said.