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Summary: The Four Factors of Trust: How Organizations Can Earn Lifelong Loyalty by Ashley Reichheld and Amelia Dunlop

Key Takeaways

  • Trust is at the core of successful relationships and businesses, but it is also at an all-time low. How can leaders measure and build trust with their stakeholders? A new book by Deloitte experts offers a data-driven blueprint and a groundbreaking tool to help organizations earn lifelong loyalty.
  • If you want to learn more about the four factors of trust, how to use HX TrustID to improve your organization’s performance, and how to elevate the human experience with your customers, employees, partners, and society, read on.


Trust in people and institutions is at an all-time low. People don’t know who is telling the truth or which sources to believe. At the same time, individuals and organizations can’t perform at their best without being trusted. Deloitte’s Ashley Reichheld – writing with Amelia Dunlop – presents a detailed, easy-to-follow blueprint for establishing and maintaining trust. They explain how to create a productive workplace, encourage employee engagement, and satisfy your customers by addressing four trust factors: “transparency, humanity, capability and reliability.” Building trust is meaningful, and you can’t build anything meaningful without it.

Summary: The Four Factors of Trust: How Organizations Can Earn Lifelong Loyalty by Ashley Reichheld and Amelia Dunlop


  • People and institutions must develop trust.
  • Every business and personal relationship depends on trust.
  • Leaders and consumers view organizational trust from different perspectives.
  • Trusting your employees helps them sustain positive relationships with your clients.
  • Establish and solidify trust throughout your organization.
  • Social media creates marketing challenges and can generate mistrust.


People and institutions must develop trust.

Trust is a foundational component of any relationship, including the relationships between organizations and their clients, employees and partners. Trust implies that a company will act with integrity and clarity while honorably pursuing its objectives. Trust means a customer can download an app without worrying about unleashing a virus. Trust assures employees they can count on their organization to keep its promises and to provide support and encouragement. In return, employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Trust enables them to be vulnerable with one another.

“Trust always comes down to a relationship, no matter how fleeting. Some relationships are transactional. Others endure.”

Today, people have extremely low levels of faith in government, business and organizations due to political, social and economic volatility. But even as trust is threatened, research indicates that it heavily influences how people act and buy. Consumers are nearly 90% more likely to do business with brands they trust. Workers who trust their employers are shown to be more motivated and less likely to look for other jobs.

Trust consists of four pivotal factors:

  • Humanity” – Consumers expect an organization to have honorable intentions and to treat its customers and employees with care and understanding. Studies show that a sense of shared humanity is a significant factor in the healthcare and hospitality industries because human interaction dominates their processes.
  • Transparency” – Companies strive to create an informed, seamless experience for their customers. Complex sectors such as banking and insurance have a particularly acute need for transparency because they must gain consumers’ confidence.
  • Capability” – Companies must have the fundamental ability to fulfill the expectations of their customers, employees and partners. Consumers are nearly three times more likely to do business with a brand that shows them they can trust it to be competent and capable.
  • Reliability” – Companies can be capable yet still undependable, but that would render them untrustworthy. Instead, take a look at FedEx, which has built a reputation for reliability by guaranteeing that shipments will arrive on time. Reliability is especially important competitively because most consumers have a variety of options, whether for shippers or for other service providers.

Every business and personal relationship depends on trust.

A Gallup survey shows that Americans’ trust in their core institutions, such as schools, banks and medical providers, has declined steadily since 1973, when Gallup first studied the issue. People, companies, institutions and governments breed trust by doing what they say they are going to do and demonstrating that they care about their constituents. Building trust requires effort and persistence. You could choose not to take on such efforts for your organization, but you would sacrifice the opportunity to build long-lasting and profitable relationships with your employees, suppliers and clients.

“People want your communications to show you understand them, know their desires and beliefs, and respect them.”

The most trustworthy organizations invest in humanity, transparency, capability and reliability. Take the Cleveland Clinic, a respected healthcare corporation that earns a strong humanity score for prioritizing patients’ needs. The design of the company’s nationwide clinics enables them to serve the needs of specific communities. For example, a community with a large population of senior citizens may benefit more from access to a diabetes treatment center than a younger community would.

Hotel companies often rank high in fulfilling the four factors of trust. Marriott International boasts many first-class properties. Motels branded as Courtyard by Marriott aren’t as fancy as Marriott International’s top-shelf properties, but guests can still count on clean rooms, friendly staff members and a comfortable experience. Marriott prides itself on transparency and provides pricing and fee information that other hospitality firms may not furnish as readily.

“It takes strong, empathetic leadership to give tough messages in plain language.”

Marriott’s president and CEO Arne Sorenson didn’t run and hide when the pandemic threatened to cripple his business. In a video message to Marriott employees, Sorenson explained that bookings were down by 75%. But before making severe staff cuts, he announced that he was foregoing his 2020 salary and that members of Marriott’s executive team would take 50% pay cuts. His voice trembling, Sorenson explained the personal pain he felt telling Marriott employees that the company was facing unexpected events it could not control. He emphasized that everyone at Marriott would share the brunt of COVID’s effects.

Leaders and consumers view organizational trust from different perspectives.

Leaders and consumers do not see eye to eye on the four factors of organizational trust. In a 2021 survey of 1,000 consumers and 500 business leaders, the gap between how executives (positive) and customers (negative) perceived corporate performance differed by 45% for humanity, 42% for transparency, 34% for reliability and 29% for capability. Leaders significantly overestimated their organizational effectiveness across the board. Many companies focus on factors that sustain their business, such as sales, instead of prioritizing their customers’ entire transactional experience and asking if consumers perceive the company as trustworthy.

“Even when organizations work to make it easy to do business with them, they often focus on the wrong approaches.”

The pervasive “trust gap” affects every facet of a company, from advertising to technology to merchandise development. Leaders have tried to address these relationship problems across the board, mostly by focusing on providing improved customer service and resolving issues rapidly to consumers’ satisfaction. But consumers want a longer-lasting trustworthiness shift plus specific remedies that demonstrate “competence through reliability and capability.”

When mishaps occur, consumers want refunds, exchanges and apologies. Studies indicate that customers will tolerate an average of three mistakes before they stop trusting a brand, but that three-strikes margin holds true only when the brand resolves each problem in a way that satisfies the consumer.

“Many financial services companies have a high concentration of neutral trust scores.”

“Ambivalent neutrals” are brands that consumers neither embrace nor distrust. These neutrals dominate the banking, mortgage and insurance industries. Consumers typically do not form emotional connections with such companies, which they choose just because they need to work with some enterprise that can perform specific services. One exception is Edward Jones, a financial services organization with roughly 19,000 advisors throughout the United States and Canada. Edward Jones ranks 30% above the average corporation in the financial services industry in perceived “capability.” The company trains all its advisors, who live in the communities where they work. Edward Jones emphasizes face-to-face relationships for building trust with clients.

Trusting your employees helps them sustain positive relationships with your clients.

Establishing a trusting relationship with your customers begins by building trust with your employees. Research shows that an inspired workforce is twice as likely to deliver improved customer satisfaction than a disengaged workforce.

“Companies with highly engaged workers outperform their competitors by 147% and enjoy 25% greater profitability.”

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines – the only US airline that made a profit during the last six months of 2021 – says the company’s “virtuous circle” is the foundation of its operating philosophy. Happy employees, he explains, provide better service to customers, whose patronage rewards stakeholders and enables the corporation to “invest back” in its workforce. Trust isn’t an entitlement, Bastian points out; people and organizations must earn it.

“Customers watch to see how workers are treated and use this as a guidepost for their own trust/purchasing behaviors.”

When the pandemic cost Delta 95% of its income, Bastian promised not to lay off or furlough even one employee. Workers had the option of continuing to work or taking “unpaid leave with full benefits.” Roughly 40,000 employees took voluntary leave. During the pandemic, the company invested $500 million in safety measures for employees and blocked the middle seat in each row aboard its airplanes to protect passengers’ health. Delta’s commitment to its workers and customers earned numerous industry awards.

Establish and solidify trust throughout your entire organization.

You can repair a breach of trust more easily if you have a strategy for making the relationship right again, rather than just randomly experimenting with possible remedies. If you are facing a breach of trust, examine your entire enterprise with the understanding that you must institute trust-building actions internally and externally. Determine the objectives of your trust initiative, then assemble data that outlines your current situation and your future goals. Use this information to create trust-building actions, on as large or small a scale as the situation requires. Then, evaluate your success or failure and adapt accordingly.

“Anything any employee, customer or partner says or does could make headlines and erode trust.”

Chief executives are ultimately responsible for everything that occurs within an organization. Whether it’s their own actions, a product recall or negative publicity, accountability stops with them. Roughly 95% of CEOs say they are committed to establishing trust, but most of them take a passive approach – at least until a crisis occurs. One study indicates that an unfavorable trust-related incident can diminish an organization’s value by approximately 55%.

The days of the omnipotent CEO who issues commands from a plush office ended with the pandemic. COVID demonstrated that top executives must digest large quantities of information, delegate accordingly and satisfy their stakeholders.No longer can CEOs focus exclusively on pleasing their board of directors and delivering profits to shareholders. Now, chief executives and their lieutenants must build trust and interact with a variety of stakeholders whose perceptions may differ considerably from theirs.

“Some of the quickest wins come from observing the effects of how you communicate with people and what access you’re giving them to information.”

Today, trustworthy behavior is becoming a standard hallmark of a quality business. In 2019, the leaders of the Business Roundtable issued a statement calling for companies to practice ethical conduct and to make sure that “consumers, employees, suppliers and communities” receive fair value.

Social media creates marketing challenges and can generate mistrust.

Marketing your goods or services now requires much more than a catchy ad campaign. Marketing has become a science that demands strategy, data, data analysis and feedback. Consumers have many options for gathering information and opinions, so companies must embrace a savvy, nuanced approach to marketing and advertising to make an impression and draw customers.

Still, marketing must focus on creating a connection between consumers’ needs and the organization’s offerings. Effective marketing requires empathy – intensely listening to your customers to gain the knowledge you need to develop a compelling narrative that speaks to their emotions and their needs.

“If you’re trusted as a brand, you don’t have to use your finite marketing dollars to convince people that your product is high quality and high value.”

The proliferation of online information channels can crowd out business leaders who would like to establish empathy. Social media, in particular, exerts tremendous influence. More than 50% of the US population gets its news from social media. Influencers with large followings wield considerable persuasive power when they support or criticize products and organizations, no matter what a company’s marketing intentions or plans might be. That leaves business leaders and their marketing departments still doing their best to perform the necessary but difficult task of establishing and maintaining their consumers’ trust.

About the Authors

Ashley Reichheld is a principal at Deloitte Digital, where Amelia Dunlop is Chief Experience Officer.


Business, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Customer Experience, Human Resources, Cybersecurity, Sustainability, Psychology, Sociology


The book “The Four Factors of Trust: How Organizations Can Earn Lifelong Loyalty” by Ashley Reichheld and Amelia Dunlop is a data-driven guide for leaders who want to build trust with their customers, employees, partners, and society.

The authors, who are both experts in human experience and customer loyalty, argue that trust is the key to creating competitive advantage and lasting relationships. They present a new framework and measurement tool, called HX TrustID, that breaks trust down into four elements: humanity, capability, transparency, and reliability.

They also provide practical examples and applications of how to use HX TrustID in various business functions, such as marketing, cybersecurity, HR, sustainability, and operations. The book is full of compelling stories from leading organizations, such as Delta Airlines, Marriott International, Energizer, Cleveland Clinic, and Edward Jones, that demonstrate how trust can impact human behaviors and business outcomes.

The book is not only informative, but also engaging and inspiring, as it shows how leaders can create the relationships they want to build, the organizations they want to belong to, and the world they want to live in.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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