PwC’s 2023 Trust Survey

How to earn customer trust in your industry

How to build customer trust in your industry
  • Report
  • 10 Minute Read
  • August 04, 2023

A deeper dive into industry takeaways from PwC's 2023 Trust Survey

Brand loyalty and trust in companies is far weaker than most company leaders imagine. A sector-by-sector perspective of our 2023 Trust Survey indicates executives should allocate more company-wide effort to maintaining and earning trust with customers. 

While executives may be surprised at the weakness in consumer trust in our survey, the good news is that there may be a simple, low-cost way to foster higher levels of loyalty and trust — disclose more specifics about the policies and data security initiatives that safeguard sensitive, personal details.

Across the board erosion in consumer trust

In our 2023 Trust Survey, no sector can claim immunity from erosion in the number of consumers who say they highly trust companies. The two sectors experiencing the sharpest declines from a year ago are financial services and tech, media and telecommunications.

Consumers trust in companies declines Consumers trust in companies declines

‘Trust gap’ remains wide

No matter the sector, there is a wide “trust gap” between executives and their customers on the question of whether a sector is highly trusted.

Executives believe they are “highly trusted,” but consumers have a much more skeptical view. The “trust gap” between them ranges from 50 percentage points for financial services to a high of 63 percentage points for tech, media and telecom.

Consumers are less trusting than executives think they are Consumers are less trusting than executives think they are

The brittleness of trust

The sector-wide persistence of the trust mismatch suggests that larger forces may be at work. The Conference Board’s June 2023 Consumer Confidence Survey1 reports that consumer expectations remain at a level that’s consistent with recession. And an annual Gallup survey2 reports that the confidence score for big business is at an all-time low. The pessimistic mood is likely hurting companies, no matter how trustworthy they are.

With so many Americans sounding skeptical, executives who believe customer trust is an important part of their firewall during a crisis may find that trust is brittle. And if trust crumbles, it could make it that much more difficult to address, or recover from, a crisis. Fewer consumers, compared to last year, say they are willing to forgive companies if they correct a mistake, indicating it’s becoming harder to win back customers.

Companies find it harder to win back consumers trust Companies find it harder to win back consumers trust

Reconsider what you believe is an ‘unlikely event’

The brittleness of trust takes on new urgency in the digital age where it’s much easier for customers to share their thoughts or migrate their business. The combined effects of digital apps, the trust gap and consumers’ darker mood could lead to black swan events.

Take the case of Silicon Valley Bank, which experienced a significant decline in its uninsured deposits in just a few hours. The withdrawals were facilitated by mobile phone apps, instant communications and a sudden lack of faith in the company.3 Many industry observers didn’t expect events to unfold the way they did, and the lesson is that executives should make the unexpected a bigger part of their crisis planning.

Earning trust

Thirty-eight percent of the consumers in our survey say that once trust is damaged, they’ll no longer purchase the company’s products or services. What do they want in order to feel your company is trustworthy? 

Consumers tell us the most important trust-earning actions are protecting their data (79% say it’s “very important”), quickly responding to and resolving their concerns (74%) and delivering a consistent and reliable customer experience (74%).

Because data protection is paramount for consumers, roughly seven out of ten say it’s very important for companies to disclose their data privacy policies. This was the highest cited consideration, ahead of financial information, DEI progress and environmental impact. But most companies say they don’t disclose that information. Being more transparent about data policies may be one of the easiest ways for your company to foster trust, and it could give your company a leg up on the competition.

Data protection transparency may be an easy way to build trust Data protection transparency may be an easy way to build trust

The AI challenge to trust

Generative AI is the talk of executive suites across many industries, both for its possibilities and risks. It’s vital that the uses of AI and Generative AI happen in a way that’s responsible, trustworthy, fair and dependable — particularly when its use can directly impact customers’ and stakeholders’ trust. Those topics are at the top of PwC’s agenda as we invest in the technology, as well as when we help clients navigate their own implementation and gauge which use cases can provide the most benefit to their organization, and doing so with trust in mind.

1“US Consumer Confidence Improved Substantially in June”, The Conference Board, June 27, 2023
2“Historically Low Faith in U.S.Institutions Continues”, Gallup, Inc., July 6, 2023
3“Remarks by Vice Chairman Travis Hill at the Bipartisan Policy Center on the Recent Bank Failures and the Path Ahead”, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., April 12, 2023

Next steps

Here are some actions you can take to help embed trust-earning into your organization.

  • Get executive team alignment on trust. Identify the various areas of your business that are essential to earning and sustaining customers’ trust, and emphasize the importance of trust with leaders of those areas.
  • Earn your stakeholder engagement plan. Assign relationship owners to your stakeholders. Encourage those owners to listen closely so they can anticipate shifts in views and expectations. Seeing the full picture can help mitigate a trust-busting event and help you earn and maintain trust that lasts.
  • Focus on outcomes. Earning trust can be an opportunity to differentiate your company. Embed it in how you measure success of the business, using appropriate quantitative data and qualitative measures. Trust can also be a valuable intangible asset during a business model or operational transformation. Employees and customers value transparency and clear communication as they adjust to change.
  • Consider the evolving expectations around transparency. Pursue technology and data-driven capabilities that enable your organization to provide valuable, reliable information to stakeholders in a way that distinguishes your brand. Also look at using independent, third-party review or attestation to help validate the effectiveness of your trust strategy against recognized frameworks — and grow trust through transparency.
  • Prepare your crisis plan with trust in mind. Put processes in place to prepare for a crisis and understand the possible implications that a crisis event may have on trust in your company. Analyze your crisis response plan to see if it includes new potential threats, such as an AI algorithm failure, and if it considers the impact of digital communications and operational platforms.
  • Take action. Request to join PwC’s Trust Leadership Institute — a premier executive leadership forum that brings senior executives and thought leaders together to navigate the most complex trust-related issues.

Industry perspectives

Only 41% of financial services executives say they disclose data privacy policies or initiatives

Business leaders in financial services know that protecting sensitive information is critical to their firm’s reputation and trust. To that end, the vast majority of leaders (85%) say their firm protects customer data “very well.”

But it’s unlikely that customers know how a firm puts safeguards around sensitive data. A minority of financial services executives (41%) say their firm discloses data privacy policies and initiatives. That’s a missed opportunity to make a deeper connection as consumers want to know their information is protected. The simple act of talking more about your firm’s data privacy policies and initiatives may be an effective way to help address a customer’s deepest concerns, while at the same time earning more loyalty and trust.

90% of consumer markets leaders are prioritizing efforts to reduce the likelihood of a major supply chain disruption. 

Supply chain disruptions are easing, yet geopolitical tensions continue to exert downward pressure on global trade, requiring consumer markets (CM) companies to constantly monitor the health of their supply lines. In fact, 90% of CM executives are prioritizing efforts to reduce the likelihood of a major supply chain disruption, the kind that could erode trust. Underscoring the need for collaborative supplier relationships, 41% of CM leaders say suppliers are among the top three, most important stakeholders with whom they want to earn trust (versus 34% for all sectors).

Only 54% of health payer and provider leaders say their companies do very well at offering employees an engaging, high-performance environment.

Ninety-two percent of healthcare executives say consumers have high trust in their companies — the top result for any sector in PwC’s 2023 Trust Survey. Yet healthcare leaders have the lowest self-rated scores when it comes to being transparent about their purpose and values (64%) and protecting customer data (72%.) Both results are at least 12 percentage points lower than other sectors.

Employee trust is another area in need of improvement. Just 64% of executives say their company does very well at offering career advancement while only a little more than half (54%) report an engaging, high-performance work environment. The numbers underscore the importance of creating a tech-enabled workforce to improve productivity, ease workloads, attract talent and earn trust.

Trust earning: Top 3 challenges for tech execs

#1 Current company culture
#2 Diverse stakeholder perspectives
#3 Unsupportive leadership team and/or board of directors

Tech executives self-rate their industry highly on trust with consumers and employees. But customers and workers don’t feel the same way following a year of layoffs and headline-grabbing, often polarizing comments by executives. The industry has the largest “trust gap” among surveyed sectors.

To close that gap, technology executives should consider their company culture — 36% cite culture as the biggest hurdle to earning trust with stakeholders. And 22% of tech executives (the most of any industry) say they don’t encounter any major challenges in earning trust — a sign these executives may want to be more conscious of the demographics of their teams and whether they’re hearing from a diverse set of voices.

Just 55% of manufacturers are “very prepared” for a major supply-chain disruption

Consumers who say they “highly trust” IP businesses fell by just one percentage point to 30% compared to last year’s survey, the smallest decline across the surveyed sectors. This staying power in trust likely reflects the rising popularity of US manufacturing, job creation in the sector and increasing investment in domestic production. However, the popularity of onshoring and reshoring poses a risk of disappointment should those trends falter. Manufacturers can earn trust by transparently communicating to stakeholders what can and cannot be realistically brought back to the US.

As manufacturers’ supply chains stabilize, a lack of preparation for future disruptions remains a major risk to trust. Just 55% say they’re “very prepared” should their supply lines break down. Weak cybersecurity defenses are a potentially major trust issue amid pervasive adoption of connected devices across the value chain — from operations to connected products. Just 60% say their organizations are “very prepared” for a cybersecurity incident or ransomware attack. And only 55% say they are “very prepared” for a data breach.

Follow us