A man limps on to a train

Imagine you are sitting on a train on your way into town. The train pulls up at a station and a man in a sharp suit limps through doors looking rather uncomfortable on his feet. The train is packed and you watch from afar as a younger man offers up his seat so he can sit down. The man with the limp thanks the younger man and accepts the offer of a seat.

Later that day you meet an old friend for lunch and have a catch-up. Out of the restaurant window you see the man in the sharp suit again. This time he is walking confidently without any sign of a limp. You realise he was faking the limp in order to get a seat on a busy train. You smile at the thought of this cunning deceit and continue chatting to your friend.

You talk on a number of topics, as you haven’t seen one another for a while. You tell him you need to go look at cars as yours is broken beyond repair. He’s a bit of an expert on cars and starts giving you advice on various makes and models which are more reliable.

After lunch you head off to a car dealership with a clearer idea of the type of car you’re looking for. You enter the dealership and are greeted by a man in a sharp suit. It’s the same man you saw limp on to the train.

Are you going to buy a car from him?

Dimensions of trust

It’s possible to spend a long time reading about the subject of trust ( László Priskin has done just that) and there are likely to be numerous models of trust out there in academia we can understand and discuss. But I don’t want to do that here.

The word trust is used to cover a lot of things and this is because trust has several dimensions. Two specific dimensions of trust that are very important to Skyscanner are:

  • Trust in our competence
  • Trust in our integrity

You don’t establish trust in your integrity simply by gaining it in your competence. Just like the car salesman in the sharp suit, we operate in a market where consumers have concerns about the integrity of the people and brands they encounter. Witnessing a man behaving dishonestly may or may not raise questions in how much you can trust their competence to perform their role. But it will likely make you question their integrity.

We only find ourselves questioning integrity at the point where we realise that we ourselves are vulnerable. Trust in this integrity can be lost, won and built upon long before this crucial point arises. The car salesman in the sharp suit lost your trust in his integrity when you realised he tricked someone into getting a seat on a train. But you only really questioned his integrity when you realised the same man was trying to sell you a car.

At a basic level, you realise you’re in a vulnerable position and so you then ask yourself if you trust the person/people with that vulnerability.

Moments of truth

I once took my bike into the local bike shop complaining that there was something wrong with my back wheel. I wanted them to service the rear hub for me in order to get the wheel spinning more freely. The problem wasn’t with my wheel. I had been riding my bike too often and for too long without resting up. I was tired and it was a windy day. The bike was fine.

After checking how the wheel was spinning, the mechanic sent me on my way telling me he could service the hub if I wanted but I would be wasting my money. From then on I always took my bike to that shop until the day I moved to another town.

When we notice that someone has put our interests above their own immediate gain, it establishes their integrity. So long as they continue to behave in a manner consistent to this, we continue to have a lot of faith in their integrity.

On the other hand, we have all been in shops where the sales staff seem hell bent on getting you to buy the most expensive lines in the shop. It might not make us walk out of the shop, but we notice it and don’t really have much trust in the integrity of those sales people. If they asked us to take a leap of faith with them then we might be unlikely to do so.

Trust isn’t binary

Brands have moments of truth like these a lot more often than they perhaps realise. When the users of those brands notice an act of self-interest which is at odds with their own (or vice versa), it has an effect on their trust in that brand’s integrity.

We can affect users’ trust at the point we need to rely on it, but we can’t simply switch it on. Trust in a brand’s integrity is more like a delicate flower than a switch. That flower can be very healthy, dead or most likely somewhere in between the two. At every touchpoint we have with our users we can make it bloom, sustain it, make it wither or kill it dead.

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