If you have been reading my blog, you notice that I pull relevant information from books that I read. The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey is the subject of this post.

Trust is one of the many factors that relate to customer satisfaction. When a customer does business with your organization, they have trusted you enough to do business with you. But trust can be broken in many ways, covered by The Speed of Trust. Here are a few nuggets:


This is one of 13 behaviors covered in The Speed of Trust. Our sales and marketing activities set expectations with customers. When these expectations are misleading, customers learn after the purchase that they were misled. They call your service or support lines. They spend unwanted time investigating only to find that some aspect of their expectation of us was an illusion. The lowers trust for the future and can cause customers to do business elsewhere. In extreme cases, this could lead to more drastic action: negative word of mouth (using modern techniques such as social media), press coverage and even legal action.

Sometimes customers read things into our marketing message that we never intended so feedback from the customer service organization is critical. Listen to what customers are complaining about. Re-evaluate the marketing and sales messages. Train the sales force if they are the ones misleading the customers. Stephen Covey uses the term Authenticity in his chapter dealing with transparency. Customers expect it and organizations that want loyal customers need to embrace it and eradicate hidden meanings.

Clarify Expectations

Another of the behaviors of High Trust organizations (and those with high customer satisfaction, I might add) is to clarify expectations up front. He calls it the ‘behavior of prevention’. Some of the pitfalls in expectation setting are to leave things undefined, assume that the expectations are already known,  failure to disclose important information, or  lack of shared vision of the outcome. Covey uses the term ‘meaningful accountability’ as the moral imperative behind clarifying expectations. What organization wants to be considered as failing in accountability.

Right Wrongs

Another behavior common in highly trusted organizations is to right wrongs. Organizations make mistakes. Perhaps it is the partner of the organization that is entrusted to do a delivery or provide some component of the customer’s expected outcome, a product, a service, even information. It happens. But what we do when it happens makes a difference. How we treat the customer to make them ‘whole’ again, to achieve their expected result differentiates us on the ‘trust’ meter and customer satisfaction.

Righting wrongs is based on being humble enough to admit a mistake and then taking action to resolve it. It shows that a business has integrity and will provide restitution.  The worst thing we can do is to deny wrongs, or hide it until it is force to, either by the press or by the government. The fiasco with Toyota’s failure to recall its cars when there were problems last year is an example of this kind of behavior. Toyota’s management was publicly embarrassed and lost market share as a result.

Stephen Covey calls this being ‘humbled by circumstance rather than being humbled by conscience’. Trying to hide a mistake instead of trying to repair it is a ‘double trust tax’ on trust according to Covey. The first tax is when you make a mistake and a second one when you ‘try to cover it up and get caught’.

As Covey says, everyone makes mistakes. The test of an organizations’ integrity is whether they take the high road to admit and rectify or the behavior of hiding and hoping not to get caught.

A recent example

Every concept needs a story. As I was finishing this book, a story was published in my local newspaper in Toronto, about a major who was involved in a questionable deal where her son was involved and stood to financially benefit (in the millions) . An investigation was completed. The judge didn’t call her actions illegal but did call them a ‘real and apparent conflict of interest‘. The mayor, Hazel McCallion,  age 90, a beloved mayor of Mississauga of 32 years, response was ‘I knew that my son was involved and I knew what the rules were. That when the issue came before a committee of council of council meeting that I must follow the Conflict of Interest Act, which I did. So that was the rules that were on the books and I followed them’.

The reaction from the editor of the Toronto Star reflects that of the community. ‘…her claim that she was really just serving the city’s interests does not excuse her conduct….When elected officials use their office to promote their own financial gain or that of their children, it is a conflict – whether they declare it or not. When exposed, it saps the confidence in the fairness of local government.’

This example points out that while we may do things that are legal, the public perception of customers (or in this case voters) may see it otherwise. The impact for Mrs. McCallion and her tenure as Mayor, is yet to be seen. She is well loved in her community. The deal never went through and her son never benefited so she may be forgiven. And at 90 years old, she is not likely to seek re-election. But Trust in government in general has suffered, particularly municipal governments because this case also exposed a lack of teeth in the legal aspect of Conflicts of Interest in the Province of Ontario.


Stephen Covey’s The Speed of Trust is worth the read. Three key behaviors from this book that  customer satisfaction professionals need to promote in their organizations are tranparency, clarify expectations and right wrongs.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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