Before talking about building trust after a crisis, let’s at least mention the need to build trust with your clients and customers on an ongoing basis. Part of that will be in friendly and helpful service and part will be in integrity and honesty. If you have those components going for you, if that crisis (or maybe “when” is better since with social media it’s almost impossible not to meltdown with something or other) comes, those people who have done business with you are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. Or if not, more likely to forgive faster.
Nature of the Crisis
The reason for the crisis will make a difference on how your proceed as well as what to do early on and later. If the crisis is something like Volkswagen or Wells Fargo have recently faced, then the efforts will need to be long range and extensive. When people find you’ve been grossly dishonest with them and all for your greed in their perception, you’ll end up crawling back inch by inch. Once trust has been violated, it’s always more difficult to gain it back.
If the crisis is something like your airline employees dragging someone out of his seat and off the flight because of a company policy. That is bad, but issuing an apology and making a change in policy may be enough to fix most of the damage. After that, increasing customer service ideas and implementing those should eventually get you back in good grace.
Refocus some of the efforts from the company and employees. Find a charity or group of them that you can get behind and get the PR out on those actions. Consider a new value statement for your company that emphasizes something more than profit. Make it about helping customers or making the world (or your state or city) a better place and then set actions in motion to accomplish that end. Get rid of policies and people that stand in the way of making things better. Start apologizing with a solution tacked on at the end. “We’re sorry this happened, but now we can offer you XYZ.”
Put in ethics training courses, and make sure all of this starts with commitment and follow through from the top down, not from the down and moving upward. If you do it the wrong direction, it’s unlikely you’ll turn things around in time.
Don’t forget to ask for people to share their positive experiences they’ve had with your company. Word of mouth and social media can be the best referrals and ads you’ll ever receive.