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Organisations can no longer get away with toxic cultures which care little for employee, investor or customer welfare
How do we learn to trust? What influences inform and guide our thinking and enable us to be aware of the world around us and to create lasting relationships? These are questions which are asked in many forms but which ultimately influence the choices which businesses and consumers make on a daily basis. In a world in which quality and experience and longevity are increasingly outweighing pure price, how does a business choose its suppliers, how does a customer make the decision to entrust their business to one bank or supermarket or plumber over another.
For centuries there was little choice. You relied on those in your immediate surroundings to serve you with the essentials for living and the occasional itinerant trader added those little extras which couldn’t be found close to home. And because those individuals lived and worked in the immediate area there was an implied contract that they would do their best for their neighbours. Then came the time of industrialisation and of mass transportation in which goods traded readily across the globe and there was little connection between manufacturer and consumer. To a large extent though the more personal services were still provided by local people and the choice was made through a mix of word of mouth and whoever was available.
Fast forward again and even the local services started to become less personal. Businesses amalgamated, we started throwing goods away instead of sending them for repair and traders covered ever-wider areas. Choices were made based on trade directories or on word of mouth but the element of doubted started to creep in; how could we trust someone, would they let us down?
Now there is a new force in play and that force is radically changing how we make our choices. For good or bad the internet has opened up decision making so that we no longer have to rely on the recommendations of friends or sticking a pin in a directory. Now we can look at websites and chat forums, see what information organisations are posting about themselves and what customers are posting about those organisations. Does a company have a website or social media page, does it offer ‘added extras’ in the form of helpful articles or online interactions; what do its users say about it?
Of course there has to be an element of scepticism. Reviews may not be genuine and people may only post reviews when they have had an exceptionally good or bad experience but by sifting through the postings it is possible to glean a better impression about the sort of service you are likely to receive. And we are already starting to see the web effect. In some industries the brand is becoming more and more synonymous with web image.
The result of this is twofold. Firstly, organisations have no choice but to develop a culture which looks outward and embraces the digital-social world. For organisations which have traditionally kept a tight control on their image the thought of empowering employees to post items or to chat online with customers can be somewhat daunting. But even in regulated sectors, once employees have received the appropriate training then their actions can only serve to enhance the image of the organisation.
The second change required is born out of the simple truth that organisations can no longer get away with toxic cultures which care little for employee, investor or customer welfare. Businesses operating behind closed doors may have got away with poor practice for decades but those doors are now open and the inner workings are laid bare for the world to see. Organisations which want to survive in this new era of openness have to look to their cultures or see them broadcast to the four corners of the earth by disaffected individuals.
Does this mean that trust will creep back into the customer/supplier relationship? Perhaps not universally, not yet, as there are still opportunities for manipulating the data. But as organisations start to change, as they look towards the internet as a logical extension of their own internal culture and as they start to transform that culture to embrace fairness and ethics and customer excellence then perhaps we will move to a new relationship era; one which is founded on openness and trust. In a way this will be less of an evolution and more of a revolution; a harking back to a time in which we knew the people who we trusted to supply us and were confident that they would do their best for us. The only difference is that this time we will have a world of choice.