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Canadians’ Trust Levels Should Not Be Taken For Granted

Bruce MacLellan

For a third year, the Proof Inc. CanTrust Index has provided a perspective on trust in our country from a distinctly Canadian perspective. Our made-in-Canada trust study digs deep into what makes our country unique, including larger samples of new Canadians and Québec residents, as well as evaluating trust for specific Canadian institutions such as the CBC, the Governor-General and the RCMP.

Once again, we find stable and positive levels of trust in Canada. Politicians ebb and flow in popularity, but we are not seeing a populist uprising anytime soon. (Doug Ford may yet win Ontario, but not due to populist anger as much as fatigue with a 15-year old government.) Public sector Canada is easily winning the race for trust versus private sector Canada, and the gap is widening. Canadians trust and like their government services, with very high trust levels in hospitals (63%), colleges/universities (63%) and police forces (64%). Transit operators do well at 52%.

Despite overall trust stability, no one should take Canadians for granted. Bombardier’s trust levels, for example, are grounded after plummeting 20 points from 56% in 2017 to 36% in 2018, the largest drop for any organization or category in the survey. Pulled up only in Québec (51%), the company has spent the past year defending executive compensation, seeking government aid and apologizing for the slow delivery of transit vehicles.

Our CanTrust Index also found that trust in Facebook fell dramatically, with a 17-point drop in trust in one year from 51% in 2017 to 34% in 2018. Distrust of the company is consistent across all ages, gender, and geography in Canada. Among Canadian households with income over $100,000, this trust falls further to 27%. Trust in Facebook’s news feed fell in recent years from 31% in 2016 to 19% in 2017 and is now mired at 18%. Overall trust in social media platforms has been stuck in the low twenties for three years and is stagnant at 22% in 2018. Despite this trust deficit, it is noteworthy that 76% of Canadians still report themselves as weekly users of Facebook.

It is likely that our report understates Facebook’s decline of trust since the survey was conducted before news about Cambridge Analytica. Now, as much as $80 billion of share value has been lost. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is paying a steep price in learning that denial of a problem is not a viable strategy. His March 25 apology in United States newspaper advertisements is a start, but consumers will be skeptical until they see real sincerity and sustained action.

Samsung is a great example of climbing back in trust. After their disastrous smartphone fires of two years ago, they have climbed 10 points in trust (from 45% to 55%) over the past year by launching new and reliable products. The swiftness of the company’s crisis response coupled with brand’s commitment to updating their product and showcasing the strength of their new devices helped Samsung regain lost ground with consumers.

By contrast, Volkswagen is still fighting with regulators over faulty emissions tests and remains at a low trust score of 36%.

One of the big takeaways from our study is the need for a deliberate approach to building and sustaining trust. Just as organizations work to build sales, grow profits, increase customers or other metrics, they also need a trust-building strategy, and our study points to the best ways to connect with Canadians.

Delivering a reliable product and positive service experience is a definite trust builder. Positive commentary from friends and family is also influential. The perceived reputation of the organization also contributes to trust. Communicative and accessible leaders will also contribute positively. Products made in Canada can also build trust and there is a role for an active charitable program. Celebrity endorsement may help, but only if the celebrity is an expert on the topic and has the authority to have the conversation.

No leader should be a bystander to their organization’s trust reputation in Canada. In terms of sales, share price, employee retention, borrowing costs or numerous other measures, a loss of trust is a business issue not to be treated lightly. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg.