Why Millennials Need Authentic Trust in Their Products

“Trust is a right; it should not have to be gained,” is a statement I sometimes hear.  Perhaps these people are being polite or idealistic when they’re telling me this.  With a bit of astonishment and fascination I usually reply, “You don’t think trust should have to be worked for and earned?”  Usually, at some point a bit further into this conversation, both parties agree to disagree, but I do think there’s a good case on why trust is usually based on a maturing relationship centered on competency and character

On October 23-25 at the Relate Live NYC conference, I’ll be presenting on the topic of trust, Millennials and how the best brands leverage that trust with this generation for win-win business and customer scenarios.

In Part 1 of this blog series we talked about looking at the Millennial generation with a general thesis that each business should consider building into every facet of its operation a “rigorous demand for excellence.”  Regardless of the nuances specific to Millennials, the rigorous demand for excellence is a requirement to build a trustworthy and profitable brand. 

We used the illustration of a triangle and in the middle is the excellent company or business everyone wants to have, especially with Millennials.  One point of the triangle is thesis #1: rigorous demand.  In this post we will look at thesis #2 on authentic trust.

By definition trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.  Stephen R. Covey in the Speed of Trust suggests that High trust is a dividend that, “increases speed, multiplies performance, and improves communication, collaboration, execution, innovation and partnering.”  On the other hand, Low Trust creates a tax that an organization pays often without even knowing it, where people are discounting what is being said, not telling the whole story.  He suggests there is even an “inheritance tax” when a previous person is distrusted that people carry into a new circumstance (think when you go to buy your car and the inherent distrust of the car salesperson).

Defining Trust
Covey describes trust as the act of building credibility, based on two factors:  character and competency.   Character is built based on integrity and intention; competency is built based on capabilities and results.    

Character is made up of integrity and the moral qualities and values distinctive to an individual or organization.  How honest is the individual or organization; does it tell the truth?  How congruent are its actions to its deepest values?  Is the organization more concerned with “what is right” than on “being right?”  Does the organization have the courage to act in accordance with its values and beliefs even when there is a price to be paid for doing so?   Most of the major violations of trust are violations of integrity.

Character also includes intention:  what are the clear and apparent motives being demonstrated?  Are they focused on self-benefit or mutual benefit?  Is genuine caring being demonstrated? It’s important to remember that our perception of someone’s intent (whether true or not) has a huge impact on trust.  Covey states, “While we judge ourselves by our intent, we tend to judge others by their behavior.”  In other words, we give ourselves grace (my intentions were good), but seldom do that with others. 

Competency is the capability to do something successfully or efficiently and to inspire confidence.  It’s the talents, attitudes, skills, knowledge and style and the means by which we produce results.  Competency also includes Results:  our track record and performance, getting the right things done and being seen as predictable and consistent.  What do we contribute to the company, brand and relationships?  We can’t hide from our results.

All Four Cores (integrity, intention, capability and results) are necessary for credibility or trust. Broken trust is always a failure of one or the other.   Covey research also shows, “The quickest way to decrease trust is to violate a behavior of character.  The quickest way to increase trust is to demonstrate a behavior of competence.” 

Thesis #2: Repetitive Performance in Competency and Character
What I suggest as a thesis from the above (so that it fits neatly into our triangle) is that trust is really about repetitive performance in competency and character.  As we mentioned above when there is a lack of trust one or two or both are missing in the formula.

Trust is like a bank account. When we start any new relationship (whether that be with a brand, a new friend, or a generation) our account is empty.  Neither one of the “parties” has made any deposits into it.  Trust is low.  We may still be polite and accepting of certain behaviors (mainly to meet societal norms), but we’re not about to spill out our deepest, darkest secrets to those people we have just met! As we spend time with each other we either put more deposits into that account or we make withdrawals.  Of course if we’re starting with nothing and we keep taking from the account, it doesn’t take long for trust to be broken and the other party to abandon the relationship because of trust bankruptcy!

However, if we continue to show elements of character and competency through integrity, intent, capabilities and results, we in turn will build up our trust bank account.  In order to build trust we must show up, on time, ready to go again and again and again.  We must have repetitive performance in competency and character.

Likewise, if there is enough in the account and the relationship is strong, we can also take out deposits if needed without negative effect.  “I’m sorry I’m late,” is a statement we’re usually willing to look past because of a history of showing up on time.  Our trust bank account is strong and we trust they’ll make a deposit later on.  Even their apology is a deposit.  However be late too often, and the relationship will suffer because, “We just don’t trust that they won’t run late all the time.”

One bad meal at our favorite restaurant leaves us usually saying, “Oh that’s unfortunate, they must have been off tonight.  I wonder if their good cook is sick and out?”  When you have built a strong, sturdy relationship and trustworthy brand, most likely there is breathing room for error.  I will caution you however that with brands and multiple options in the marketplace, the room for error is a small margin.  Also, in this day of social media, remember that an individual has the capacity to tell countless others about the problem which then they see as their problem as well. 

Brand Titan: Starbucks
One of the best examples I can think of when we look at a brand and trust is Starbucks.  More importantly, one of my favorite business stories is how Starbucks fell from the top of the “beloved brands” list and through a rigorous year of “self inventory” regained trust with its customers because of their efforts to rebuild their character and competency.

In 2007 Starbucks started to see a downward spiral that was most apparent in its plummeting stock numbers. Starbucks had become obsessed with growth and took their eyes off operations and their core business.  Starbucks was losing some of its signature traits and the internal ailments started to compound with the stock market crash of 2008.  By the end of its fiscal 2008, Starbucks’ stock, once seemingly invincible, had declined by over 50 percent.  Many suggest that the absence of its founder Howard Schultz who had left years earlier was a major reason why the brand lost its way especially when looking at its core values, mission and delivering on the original brand’s promise to deliver a superior cup of coffee.  In January 2008, Howard Schultz retook control of the company and began what he called his “Transformation Agenda.”

Within his transformation agenda, Schultz laid out the Seven Big Moves Starbucks needed to embrace in order to be successful in the future. They were to be the undisputed coffee authority, engage and inspire partners (staff), ignite the emotional attachment to customers, expand global presence while making each store the heart of the local neighborhood, be the leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact, create innovative growth platforms worthy of Starbuck’s coffee, and deliver a sustainable economic model.

Seems like some competency and character building to me!

With these seven prime directives in mind, the Starbucks brand regained the trust of their customers, the market and the world by implementing product enhancement (competency), “technology acuteness” (competency), Lean techniques (competency), social and community standards (character), staff development (competency & character), and quality customer service and engagement standards (character).

Today, through the efforts put forth by Schultz and his team, Starbucks has reclaimed its position as a profitable company and one of the world’s most adored companies.  Starbucks has more than $10 billion in annual revenue and serves nearly 60 million visitors a week in 16,000 stores in 54 countries.  More than 200,000 people represent the staff of Starbucks. This is in large part due to the focus and discipline of the company and its leader to rebuild the trust within the brand.

Why is trust so important to Millennials?
Trust is actually very important to every single customer you have regardless of the generation.  Millennials just demand it more (as we know from thesis #1).  It’s about being authentic, one’s true self, saying what you mean and meaning what you say.  Millennials expect that you’re telling the truth as a company.  However in today’s world many companies are not telling the entire truth about their brand, product or service.  The issue for many companies is that the Millennial generation will hold you to your sales pitch.  The days of the “snake oil” salesman are dead.  For many companies, who are not entirely truthful, who lack competency and character in their business practices and product, they will rue the day that 93 million Millennials find out that they are in fact not telling the truth.  This generation, who has a rigorous demand for excellence, will hop on their social platforms and announce to the world that you are now deemed untrustworthy.

Advancing the Thinking: Questions to Ponder
So as we look at the conference in late October, I encourage you to examine your brand and its trust level.  Here are three questions to explore in advance of the conference, both with your staff and your customers:


1.     Does my brand have a history of building integrity in the marketplace?  

2.     Does my brand focus on best intentions and mutual benefits?

3.     Does my brand inspire confidence through its capabilities?

4.     Does my brand deliver results by showing up, on time, ready to go?