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Business leaders: Owning your mistakes matters more to customers than ESG data

A new survey by PwC shows business leaders may be out of touch with how customers define trust.

Business leaders: Owning your mistakes matters more to customers than ESG data
[Source Photo: rawpixel]

While poll after poll shows citizens trust businesses more than governments and nonprofits—and that trust is growing—a new study shows consumers and corporate leaders define trustworthy behavior in very different ways.

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 The Complexity of Trust: PwC’s Trust in U.S. Business Survey polled 503 executives and 1,001 consumers and found major differences in the way business leaders and the public think about trust. According to the survey, 50% of consumers say accountability to customers and employees builds trust in companies, while 48% say “clear communication” and 40% cite “admits mistakes” as the most important drivers of trust.

Executives acknowledged clear communications and accountability to customers and employees as key trust factors, but they emphasized protecting customers’ data and delivering on financial commitments—lower priorities for the public—as among their top drivers of trust with their stakeholders.

Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. chair and senior partner, says he is not shocked by the disconnect between executives’ and consumers’ perspectives. “Executives spend a big part of their time thinking one, two, three, five years ahead,” he says. “And consumers tend to be more here and now.”

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Ryan says rather than expecting consumer behavior to change, executives need to be able to think long term and respond quickly to the issues that consumers are facing at any given moment.

More surprising is the difference in consumer and executive opinions. Only 19% of consumers surveyed cited reporting of data on ESG (environmental, social, and governance) performance as an important factor in trust, but 51% of business leaders said transparent ESG reporting was “extremely important” to building trust with stakeholders. Rather than pull back on sustainability commitments, though, Ryan says business leaders have an opportunity to explain why ESG transparency is a key pillar of creating trust among businesses and communities. “Telling that story moves [ESG transparency] to top of the list” for the public, he says. “I do believe [ESG] will get there for the consumer.”

Professional services firm PwC earlier this year reorganized into two businesses: Trust Solutions, which includes tax reporting and assurance, and Consulting Solutions, which will serve corporate customers in areas such as cybersecurity and deals. PwC also created a Trust Leadership Institute.

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While business enjoys a higher degree of trust than counterparts in government, philanthropy, or media, Ryan says businesses should not take that standing for granted. “Business should worry about staying on the front foot because that trust can be fleeting,” he says. “It’s not a guarantee that business is always going to be the most trusted institution.”

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