United States ‘trust crash’ inspires BBB initiative


After an annual global trust and credibility survey last year revealed record low levels of confidence in U.S. institutions — dubbed a “trust crash” — the local chapter of the Better Business Bureau stepped up to the plate.

Phil Catlett, president of the nonprofit Better Business Bureau Serving Western Michigan, cited the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report as the impetus for creating a West Michigan-specific initiative called the BBB Trust Lab.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that among the U.S. informed public — defined as those ages 25-64 who are college educated, in the top 25% of household income per age group in each market, and report significant media consumption and engagement in business news — trust of the media, government, business and nongovernmental organizations fell 23 points from 68 points in 2017 to 45 points in 2018.

For the less-informed general population, trust fell nine points in the same categories, from 52 in 2017 to 43 in 2018.

The Edelman report described the declines as record-breaking, a “crash” and a “collapse” compared to the results dating back to 2001, when the index was established.

Catlett said the BBB’s North American organization has a core mission of increasing marketplace trust, and locally, he and his team have set a goal to make West Michigan the most trustworthy place to do business in the U.S.

They realized to do so, they had to be able to measure trust in this market and take steps to increase it.

Early last year, the board of directors of BBB Serving Western Michigan approved the formation of the BBB Trust Lab, a solely local initiative.

“It is our effort to measure trust both internally within organizations and externally in the marketplace and then provide opportunities for training, coaching and other ways of improving trust,” Catlett said.

Last year, BBB began partnering with the Calvin Center for Social Research and the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust to design “broad and specific” research to accomplish its goals.

While initially, the BBB Trust Lab focused on trust among consumers in the marketplace, in working with the Calvin Center for Social Research and the Trust Lab business sponsors, the organization realized it should create a survey that would measure trust within organizations, as well.

Jack Daley, vice president of sales and marketing for BBB Serving Western Michigan, said the BBB defines trust in the marketplace as “when a consumer and a business can feel comfortable and know that what the person that they’re doing business with or interacting with is going to do what they say and say what they do.”

Catlett said it also extends to nonprofits.

“It’s how much do you trust nonprofit organizations to have both the competency and the intentions to do things very well with the donor dollars,” he said.

The BBB is using an assessment that draws on “tools developed over the years by experts” to measure 31 different areas of trust internally at seven organizations so far. It will follow up with coaching and education for leaders to help them understand their organization’s results and where to go next.

The Calvin Center for Social Research and the BBB currently are fielding the external consumer survey, which they are distributing across the BBB Serving Western Michigan’s 38-county footprint to capture as much demographic diversity as possible.

“We are looking at specific industries — it could be airlines, it could be travel, could be insurance, legal profession, autos, auto dealerships — and looking at people’s metrics, how they feel about those industries in West Michigan in terms of … levels of trust that they may have within those particular industries,” Daley said.

The consumer report will be out in late May or early June. Daley said the BBB will compare the results to a national study done in 2017 to find out how West Michigan stacks up in the marketplace.

Supporting businesses will be able to receive company-specific data geared toward their needs and area of focus.

Trust Lab doesn’t stop at data collection and reporting. It also offers free workshops and events for businesses that address trust in the local marketplace. Topics have included scams, cybersecurity, marijuana in the workplace and employee insurance opportunities.

Consumer-oriented trust-building programming includes educational events for students, Rotary Clubs, senior citizens groups and more.

Catlett said if all goes well, the BBB Trust Lab in West Michigan could spread to other markets.

“The whole lab concept, the Trust Lab, is to try out all these different things and see how they work in enhancing and building trust, and when we really get traction with something, then we can start spreading that word out, that the Trust Lab results have shown this,” he said. “So, we’re going to really put more resources toward these programs and these ideas that are being effective in enhancing trust.”

Sponsors of the Trust Lab support the costs of research, tools and programming. They include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Amway, Huntington Bank, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, BHS Insurance and Varnum.

Consumers interested in taking the external survey can email tiffany@westernmichigan.bbb.org.

Businesses and nonprofits interested in obtaining an internal trust assessment for their organizations can email jack@westernmichigan.bbb.org.

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