Consumers have lost trust in most of corporate America, The Harris Poll recently revealed.

The poll surveyed thousands of adults in November and found that American perception has dropped for 18 of the 19 industries covered in the survey.

When asked which industries are generally honest and trustworthy – terms defined as whether respondents normally believe a statement by companies in that industry – 42 percent replied “none of these.” This is an increase in distrust from last year, when 36 percent indicated the same.

Supermarkets (30 percent) and hospitals (28 percent) are the most trusted businesses.

Other industries trusted by the highest percentages of Americans include:

  • Online search engines (18 percent)
  • Banks (18 percent)
  • Computer hardware companies (17 percent)
  • Online retailers (15 percent)
  • Computer software companies (13 percent)

The findings demonstrate a need to elevate image and reputation of corporate America.  That starts with doing what’s right for the customer – and making sure consumers know that commitment.

How brands can redeem themselves…

Businesses can use a variety of media monitoring and measurement tools to identify issues and fix problems – or perceptions.

For example, a computer software company receiving a lot of negative sentiment can use media monitoring to find conversations of dissatisfied customers and determine the cause of their bad experiences. It can then pass this data along to customer service and product development to improve the quality of their services.

“Trust” is one of the three elements required for a successful PR agency, Sharam Fouladgar-Mercer, CEO of AirPR, notes in The 3 T’s of a Great PR Experience: Truth, Trust and Transparency. Fouladgar-Mercer offers the elements for implementation in the PR-client relationship.  The elements apply equally to the business-consumer relationship:

Truth. When consumers thoroughly understand what the company is trying to achieve, both parties win. Companies must set clear expectations from the beginning, and be truthful with their consumers about their capabilities, limitations and passions. If a crisis occurs, the worst thing a company can do is deny fault: consumers respect companies that are honest and take responsibility for their actions.

Trust. If a company has a track record of good and trustworthy behavior, consumers are more likely to trust them. One red flag for consumers is slow or unhelpful customer service

Transparency. Companies must be willing to collaborate with consumers. Blogs and social media provide outlets for businesses to be open with consumers and release statements about a crisis or other recent mentions of the company.

Bottom line: Companies in most all industries must improve the public’s perception of them. PR has a responsibility to convey that need to the C-level, to identify specific corporate issues, and to recommend strategies to gain consumer trust.