Closing The Trust Gap with Conversations

It’s no secret we have a serious Trust Gap at many levels of society.

In this article I’ll discuss the background to why we have a Gap - and how business can close it, using the power of customer conversations.

Journey to the edge …

Customer Experience is the now the realm of a dazzling array of technologies to save money, speed up processes, and increase customer satisfaction. Systems for taking people through their brand touchpoints in the most efficient way possible.

Though at times, you sense a fierce determination to take humans completely out of customer interactions.

Of course we live in a crowded, stressful, fast-moving environment and expect instant gratification when having our problems solved. So AI is a logical way to try and meet those expectations, especially in more commoditised, high-turnover categories.

When people say “I can never talk to a human”, in some ways don’t we only have ourselves to blame, because we want everything done on the spot, and will rage if delayed?

All in all, technically brilliant … emotionally, not so much? High IQ - low EQ, but the job gets done, and we’ve collected mountains of data to keep AI further occupied.

At the same time personal, voice-activated assistants like Siri, OK Google, Alexa etc are invited into the home like our very own call-centre!

Again, hectic lifestyles demand smart solutions, but isn’t there something rather sad about teaching the machine Skills like “Alexa … Make Me Happy”?

Falling off the cliff …

When researching this article it was clear that I needed to include credible info links to support the Trust Gap concept. It’s a large topic for further in-depth reading.

Facebook the glaring example, when the social media behemoth was hit by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, over misuse of people’s data. A survey in April showed only 28% of their users agreeing that Facebook was committed to protecting the privacy of their information - down 66 points from the previous 79%!

Trust measurement has been around a long time, and feeds regular mainstream stories about most & least trusted professions and brands. Like this one from Forbes with health professionals and military officers at the top of the ranking - lobbyists, business execs, lawyers at the bottom.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer covering a variety of regions, was a sharp reality check. The US experienced the largest ever drop in general societal trust, in the history of the study … “driven by a staggering lack of faith in government, which fell 14 points to 33 percent among the general population … the remaining institutions of business, media and NGOs also experienced declines of 10 to 20 points”.

A further dive into the summary highlights several fascinating aspects - where the trust in journalism itself improved while news delivery platforms went down, the increased need for experts (instead of friends for information), and the belief that a company “can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates”.

What stands out in the report is the new expectation, that business has a much greater responsibility for taking the lead  … “building trust (69 percent) is now the No. 1 job for CEOs, surpassing producing high-quality products and services (68 percent).

Companies often include social responsibility in their mission statements, but in practice, can seem like nothing more than lip-service. This is no longer good enough.

Not only ensuring that people have confidence in the brand’s products & services, but also being a force for positive change in the community.

Supporting your activities, whether commercial or altruistic, with authentic, expert information content will further enhance your emotional connection with customers. In this toxic ‘fake news’ cycle people will embrace you for being honest and helpful.

Over-inflated, BS marketing won’t cut it. People are mistrustful and sceptical, and you’ll be called out in a flash on social media.

Erosion of Trust “caught in a landslide, no escape from reality”…

As these studies illustrate, people’s ability to know who to trust, so they can function in everyday life can be eroded over time, by a combination of influences.

Ranging from the dehumanisation of contact between a company and its customers, through to the corrosive relationship between governments, public institutions, and media platforms (both traditional and social).

Social Climate Change …

For today’s businesses, establishing some form of regular, human contact is a Must-Have, not just a Nice-To-Have.

A dehumanised brand persona is a major risk-factor, that may not be obvious at first. But as we head towards the milestone of 2020, in the current social climate, it’s doing long-term damage to the value of the business.

Of course AI makes perfect sense at many operational and transactional levels, and can even contribute to sustainable practice benefiting society.

But the ultimate winners in any category will be those brands who tangibly demonstrate a high Emotional Intelligence.

Having genuine empathy with their customer’s experience, via human touchpoints in the mix, to better serve their needs.

“Data Is King But Heart Rules” …

A philosophy rapidly gaining traction at the top end of town, as headlined in this report on the recent Forbes CMO Summit, as a sign of the times.



A philosophy rapidly gaining traction at the top end of town, as headlined in this report on the recent Forbes CMO Summit, as a sign of the times.

“Humanity took center stage …as some of the world’s most influential CMOs shared their perspectives on the future of brand engagement—even as data and digital technology transform the practice.”

Attendees were told “companies and their employees must move from transaction to relationship, recognizing and authentically engaging with the individual who is the buyer”.

And this next extract is worth quoting in detail, as a ringside commentary on the arm-wrestle between the Brain and the Heart …

“Data allows us to reach into places we haven’t had access to before, anticipating unmet needs, having empathy,” Deloitte Digital CMO Suzanne Kounkel said. “But you can’t hide behind it. You have to have both the brain and the heart. You have to be careful that you don’t lose your heart along the way.”

Research from Forrester Consulting makes the case for this “heart” focus driving the bottom line. At a time when the majority of marketing interactions occur through digital channels, if communication with a brand is perceived to be “human,” customers are 1.6 times more likely to make a purchase and 1.8 times more likely to recommend the brand, cited Miles Kleeger, president of Braze messaging platform.

That leaves companies striving to strike a balance between customer service powered by the more efficient artificial intelligence, like chatbots, versus the more impactful, living person. “We’re in a tension moment,” EY Global Advisory Leader for Media and Entertainment Janet Balis said, “because on the one hand, we’re talking so much about storytelling, purpose and brands; on the other hand, we’re more metrics-driven than ever before. Things are more quantifiable than ever before.”

So there’s demonstrable ROI for avoiding being the Tin Woodman from the Wizard of Oz.

Bringing to mind, a metaphor from the original story - where he used to be a man (brand) of flesh and blood, but a Wicked Witch (of AI) cursed his axe to cut off all his body parts (human touchpoints) - which ultimately caused him to lose his heart and love affair with the Munchkin maid (the customer) Nimmie Amee.

And BTW is that a marketing funnel on his head?

Meanwhile back on The Yellow Brick Road …

In the digital age of mistrust, customer interactions must be seen to be private, secure, not open to misuse of the information, and not all run by a machine. Strong potential value as a brand pillar, not just a grudging, legal obligation.

Trust as a Differentiator …

PWC feature this concept in their latest Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2018-2022, where you can download a free ‘perspectives’ summary.

There’s a detailed discussion on five dimensions of trust in the sector, including Content Safety ( a very real threat to revenue), and a reinforcement of ‘Ecosystem Trust – is your company good for society?’ (as above).

Going on to say about differentiation “Companies that have trust with everyone they do business with will enjoy a competitive edge over those that don’t – from private individuals to massive corporate business partners”.

Transparency a key driver, as PWC encourage E&M brands to take cues from other sectors and share more information about What they do and Why - to build trust, as also mentioned above.

So the evidence mounts …

This is a just a sample of the contemporary discourse among business thought-leaders on Trust, and ‘humanising’ touchpoints as a key competitive advantage,.

There’s no coincidence in the many parallels between the reports. And how business doesn't live in a bubble, separated from people’s very real concerns about being deceived at multiple levels of their personal worlds.    

Closing the Trust Gap with Conversations …

We all bang on about the importance of relationships in marketing.

And in the real world they’re built on conversations, as we do with family and friends, which I discussed in my last article on Insights vs. Facts

'Machine Surveys' with no effort made to give your project 'heart', will be the Tin Woodman of research. So earlier this year I shared these Humanising Research Tips.

Here’s the thing …

We could spend forever theorising about how to do this. And in the digital world you can patchwork any number of ways of rough & ready ways to get feedback - risking low quality and engagement, so you’re no further ahead. Or catch your CFO in a good mood, and invest in a very expensive, labour-intensive beast of a community platform.

But there is a solution … what we finally have on a practical, affordable level, is the Tech+Technique for engaging in conversations with customers AND gathering quality insights. In a private, safe, fun & friendly approach - social benefits with research outcomes.

“Building trust is the #1 job” - what could be more powerful and trustworthy than the CEO, or any decision-maker, reaching out to VIP customers inviting them in for a personal chat?

Yes it requires making an effort, but if YOU don’t, why should your customers? And why they’ll otherwise remain coldly detached, and open to a new relationship with heart.

About the Author

Eriks Celmins brings a wealth of global experience in talking to media, sport & entertainment audiences, as a long-time research & content consultant.

Eriks runs both in-depth quantitative & qualitative research, including his innovative techniques for participant engagement.

He passionately believes in the power of conversation to build customer relationships, and help marketers gather fast, real-time insights.

Which you can now access on

his new social-style, 

private chat-platform 


cliizii … Customer Led Insights? 

Easy cliizii!

He is also a full Member of AMSRS (Australian Market & Social Research Society).

"I'm always open to exploring creative solutions to research challenges. Reach out to me personally if you want to hash out some ideas, or connect with me on LinkedIn".

He passionately believes in the power of conversation to build customer relationships, and help marketers gather fast, real-time insights.

Which you can now access on his new social-style, private chat-platform 


cliizii … Customer Led Insights? Easy cliizii!

He is also a full Member of AMSRS (Australian Market & Social Research Society).

"I'm always open to exploring creative solutions to research challenges. Reach out to me personally if you want to hash out some ideas, or connect with me on LinkedIn".


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