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Trust is more than a buzzword: it offers companies a greater degree of competitive advantage and resilience in the face of economic downturns, and if it is woven well throughout an organization, it lifts overall business success. Consumers are willing to pay more for goods from trusted brands, vendors are happier to invest in longer-term contracts, and employee turnover drops significantly.

Yet during a time when financial stability and retention are pivotal, supply-chain disruptions, workforce management changes, and inflation are eroding trust among all of these stakeholders. Many executives are recognizing that to strengthen these stakeholder relationships, they need to create a culture of trust with thriving relationships that can not only carry the business through hard times, but also promote sustainable success for their organizations in the long run. This means a shift away from ad-hoc trust initiatives to comprehensive, org-wide trust strategies that realign stakeholder relationships and integrate trust-building measures into the core functions of everyday business operations.

Realigning expectations and creating an organizational trust strategy

The first step to strengthening stakeholder relationships is getting on the same page about what actually drives trust within the business ecosystem. PwC reported in their 2022 survey that executives, employees, and customers all agree that trust should be a top priority, but executives are placing too much importance on measures like transparent communications or being good corporate citizens. While consumers and employees do appreciate these efforts, they are left wanting when it comes to basic drivers of trust, like how well employees are being treated and the affordability, variety, and quality of products and services that a company is able to provide.

A more comprehensive approach to trust strategies, where key stakeholders are given opportunities to provide feedback on all areas of the business, can close this awareness gap and ensure trust is being built based on what stakeholders value most. Deloitte recommends expanding the scope of ESG reporting to not only include more social and governance metrics, but also stakeholder insights on areas such as:

  • Leadership and strategic governance

  • Customer experience and product quality

  • Financial integrity and health

  • Technology and innovation

  • Compliance, safety, security, and protection

  • Purpose and ethics

  • Culture, equity, and workforce experience

This not only demands that better feedback is collected for accurate reporting, but also gets key stakeholder insights shared in the public sphere. As stakeholders become increasingly concerned with how a business nurtures all of its ongoing relationships, these expanded ESG reports offer compounding benefits. When customers want insight into a company's workplace management practices, or employees want to know whether their company is offering a satisfying breadth of products and services, that information is already being captured and reported.

Maintaining trust through personalized engagement and clear data

82% of business executives believe there cannot be trust without transparency. When stakeholders see publicly that their feedback—and the feedback of others—is valued and integrated at the organizational level, it offers reassurance that their needs are being prioritized. Especially in the midst of an economic downturn, there's value in a continuous process of engaging stakeholders, collecting feedback, and iterating on this trust-building system.

A continuous process does not mean constant engagement, however, and this is particularly true for external stakeholders. The most successful feedback systems offer breathing room and help build trust that engagement is driven by a genuine desire to implement change, rather than trying to close a deal. Organizations need to find a balance, recognizing when to ask for feedback and when to simply provide confidence-boosting information. Not every customer, investor, or vendor needs to know how to balance books for an international enterprise, but they still have a valid interest in the financial health of the companies with which they interact. Engaging stakeholders only when their input can provide meaningful value to the broader trust ecosystem of the business—and delivering on the rest of their concerns with straightforward and concise data—can help stakeholders feel heard but also confident in the organization's ability to stand on its own.

The trust reports that result from this approach should tell a clear story at the organizational level while still delivering value to specific stakeholder segments. This requires clear, accurate data, which can be a challenge in larger organizations due to the sheer volume of information generated. Over-centralizing this data can create trust reports that are too broad, tackling high-level concerns without addressing regional needs, while localizing too much can appear to stakeholders as a lack of cohesion and consistency across a company. 

The right balance is struck in organizations that prioritize data integrity and usability first, focusing primarily on governance and standardization. When all branches of a business share a common understanding of how data should be managed, it increases the confidence that stakeholders can have in the integrity and reliability of the solutions built on that data. And if org-wide data is easy to clean, prepare, and transform, regional teams can more easily develop localized, value-adding data solutions to target stakeholder needs.

Trust as the precursor to resilience

Organizations are starting to realize the value of treating all stakeholders as customers in their own right, where trust is the currency of innovating together. New technology products, pricing models, and DEI initiatives can all be relevant and value-driving for investors, consumers, and employees alike. Customers care about how AI technology and data collection are being employed within organizations, and sales reps want to trust that the prices they are passing along to leads are data-backed and fair.

In many ways, incorporating trust into an organization is no different than other types of value delivery. Stakeholder experience is a product, and trust is the channel by which that product is delivered. Cultivating a transparent relationship with stakeholders can realign what trust looks like in the modern enterprise, and drive a cycle of targeted stakeholder engagement and iterative trust-building initiatives supported by clear, consistent data. Organizations that get the formula right will be able to build secure, long-lasting relationships with the people that matters most to their success, and in doing so, create a thriving stakeholder network that can help the business weather any changes that the future holds.


Zoho offers a suite of intelligent enterprise business software, including an award-winning CRM suite, the industry's only comprehensive analytics and BI platform, and a powerful low-code development ecosystem.