As we’ve done over the past decade, the XM Institute team is defining a focus for the upcoming year, and we’re labeling 2024, “The Year of Trust.” We invite you to join us as we explore the topic throughout the year, in hopes that our shared efforts can raise the level of trust around the world.

Why Did We Choose Trust?

We choose our annual topic based on a combination of factors, including what we hear from our global community of Experience Management (XM) professionals and what we anticipate will be an important area of focus for organizations. 

In 2022, we focused on “The Year of Agility,” highlighting how to tap into XM to sense and respond in a world full of uncertainty. Last year, “The Year of Empathy,” we focused on human beings, emphasizing the need to improve how we collectively treat customers, patients, visitors, members, employees, colleagues, partners, friends, family members, and even strangers. We strongly believe that 2024 is a critical year for building trust.

After several years of dealing with operational chaos caused by COVID, economic disruptions, and political unrest, organizations need to enter 2024 prepared to establish a new level of normalcy. It’s not that executives should expect all of the upheavals to disappear. They won’t. Instead, at this point, leaders should be acclimated to the uncertain environment and adjusting their strategies and decisions accordingly.

One of the most important objectives for organizations as they establish their new operating motions in 2024 will be to build trust with all of their stakeholders, including customers, employees, and partners. Why? Because trust is the foundation for achieving many of their goals. It affects whether and how individuals decide to interact with other people or institutions. When people have trust, they are more likely to:

  • Interact voluntarily. With higher levels of trust, people are more likely to take actions that align with the goals of your organization.
  • Consume messages. With higher levels of trust, people are more likely to take the time to understand the information you send to them.
  • Change behaviors. With higher levels of trust, people are more likely to change how they act based on your suggestions or requests.
  • Forgive mistakes. With higher levels of trust, people’s negative reactions to issues are dampened and they are more likely to believe that problems are being addressed.
  • Advocate proactively. With higher levels of trust, people are more likely to actively promote your organization to friends, relatives, and colleagues.

This chart shows the examples of how trust creates value, including "interact voluntarily", "consume messages", "change behaviors", "forgive mistakes", and "advocate proactively

The Basics Of Trust

Everyone probably has some ideas about what trust means to them. To ground our discussion, let’s start with a commonly used definition. Trust is:

The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.

Source: An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust (Mayer, Davis, & Shoorman)

In other words, trust is a relationship between two parties (trustor and trustee) where the trustor decides to do something with the trustee even though there is some uncertainty about the outcome. The strength of this trust is affected by both the individual characteristics of the trustor (e.g., personality traits, attitudes toward others, expertise, degree of prior trust experience) as well as relevant attributes of the trustee (e.g., reputation, predictability, and reliability). For instance, if a person (trustor) is trying to decide on an insurance provider (trustee), they are more likely to trust the company to approve any future claims if it has won industry awards, has an easy-to-use digital interface, or was recommended to them by a friend.  

In addition to factors inherent to the trustor and trustee, trust dynamics are also influenced by contextual factors – situational and environmental factors shared between the trustor and trustee at the time of their interaction. For example, trust tends to be higher between teammates in work environments with strong team cohesion, a transparent company culture, and low-stakes situations. 

The academic research generally distinguishes between two types of trust:

  • Cognitive Trust. The rationally formed attitudes the trustor has about the ability of the trustee to have the competence and commitment to deliver the trustor’s expected outcomes.
  • Affective Trust. The emotionally formed attitudes that the trustor has about the comfort and security of relying on the trustee. This is sometimes described as “a leap of faith.”

Here are some dynamics to think about across these two types of trust:

  • They are not independent. It turns out that cognitive trust is a significant, but not unique, driver of affective trust. In other words, if the trustor feels confident in the trustee’s abilities, they are also likely to feel a sense of comfort and security. 
  • Cognitive trust grows in importance over time. Not surprisingly, as trustors get to know trustees, they tend to have a stronger base of facts they can draw from to rationally determine their level of trust.
  • Affective trust is critical in “blind” decisions. If a trustor has to make a decision without the capacity to judge the trustee’s abilities, they are left to rely almost exclusively on affective trust.

Strategies for Building Trust

Our research shows that consumers currently have relatively low levels of trust in organizations. Given the importance of trust, it’s critical to explicitly focus on cultivating it. How can you and your organization (trustees) build trust with your key stakeholders (trustors), regardless of whether they’re customers, employees, partners, friends, or relatives? Here are some ideas for building cognitive and affective trust:

  • Act consistently. Trustors will have more faith in your abilities if they observe a pattern of behavior that allows them to confidently form expectations about what you will do in the future. For instance, if a manager has consistently supported the promotion of her people over time, a new employee is more likely to trust that she will support their promotion in the future as well.
  • Don’t over-hype. Trustors will view you as more sincere, and therefore more dependable and competent, if you do not overstate your capabilities. For instance, a customer will have a hard time trusting a new offering from a bank claiming it provides interest rates that are three times higher than the nearest competitor. (P.S. Explaining the hype away with some fine print does not help build trust!)
  • Be transparent. Trustors will view you as more dependable if you proactively share details about situations that they care about. For instance, an independent insurance agent will have more trust in an insurance company if it shows the agent how their commission rates compare to other agents.
  • Accept responsibility. People understand that things may not go as planned. That’s why they are more likely to trust a person or organization that proactively fixes issues when they arise. For instance, an apparel retailer is more likely to trust a shoe manufacturer that not only acknowledged a flaw in a few of its products but also immediately replaced them and added money to the retailer’s marketing allowance.
  • Show commitment to resolving problems. Since trustors recognize that they cannot predict the future outcome of their decisions, a trustee can build trust by demonstrating a willingness to support them across the range of potential outcomes. For instance, a car dealer can explain how they stay actively involved with car buyers during their first 90 days of owning a car to ensure the customer is happy with their purchase.
  • Demonstrate caring. Trustors are more likely to trust you to act on their behalf in the future if they believe you will look out for their interests. So you should find ways to show them you care. For instance, a traveler is likely to trust an airline more if the pilot thanks them personally when they leave the plane.

In addition to the strategies listed above, here are some approaches that are particularly valuable in newer relationships where the trustor has little previous history with the trustee

  • Make a strong first impression. In instances where a trustor has never interacted with a trustee before, the trustee needs to devote particular attention to creating a positive initial experience. These first moments will substantially impact the level and trajectory of trust. For instance, a new manager needs to dedicate extra time and effort to planning out what she is going to convey during her first team meetings and one-on-one sessions.
  • Communicate clearly. Thanks to the fluency heuristic, human beings tend to view things that we can easily understand as more truthful, moral, and common. So we ascribe more expertise and value to people and organizations that communicate clearly. For instance, a first-time visitor to an e-commerce site will feel more comfortable sharing his credit card information if the site is user-friendly and all the information is written in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way. 
  • Share relevant credentials. Trustors are more likely to trust you if they recognize your expertise, so highlight your capabilities and previous successes. That’s why case studies can be strong trust builders, especially if the stories resonate with the trustee. For instance, a government agency looking for a new HR application will believe that a tech company is more competent if it can show that it has successfully helped similar government agencies in the past.
  • Find commonality. Trustors are more likely to trust if they feel a connection with the goals of the trustee, so you should search to identify this common ground. A financial services consultant who wants an active military prospect to sign on as a new client can increase trust if she demonstrates a commitment to supporting charities that help wounded veterans.

Strategies to Improve Contextual Factors of Trust

You can also build cognitive and affective trust by altering the context surrounding the interaction between you and a trustor. Specifically, you can:

  • Lower perceived risk. Trustors are more likely to trust if they do not perceive a lot of risk in the outcome of the interaction, so you can either share evidence that the potential risk is minimal or that there is a very low likelihood of a negative outcome. For instance, a nurse can increase a patient’s trust in a new medication if he persuasively explains that there are very few situations where the side effects of the drug will make the patient feel worse than they currently do.
  • Reduce uncertainty. Trustors are more likely to trust if there is not a wide variance in potential consequences, so you can build trust by highlighting a narrow range of outcomes. For instance, an insurance agent can help a client trust her advice on which level of life insurance coverage to select if she shares data that shows people like them rarely get coverage that is much higher or lower than that level.
  • Define clear next steps. If a trustor expects to be on a short journey with a trustee, they may feel as if it’s easier to trust than if the relationship seems to be for a long period. While it may not be practical to shorten some timeframes, trustees can make the journeys seem shorter if they provide very clear signposting about what the next steps are for reaching upcoming intermediary milestones. For instance, if a government agency has a long process for granting visas online, it can increase trust in the process if it begins by communicating which documents and information people will need on hand to successfully submit their application and sets their expectations around how much time the process will take to complete and the turnaround time for a response.

Join Us in Making This the Year of Trust

Hopefully, we’ve inspired you to join our focus on increasing trust around the world in 2024 and provided you with some ideas about how to participate in this global initiative. Here are some initial steps that you can take:

  • Share this blog and promote the idea of making 2024 the Year of Trust across your organization.
  • Hold a brainstorming session with your XM team to identify some specific ways you can adjust your efforts to better increase trust across your organization. 
  • Work with different teams across your organization to identify how XM can help them increase trust in their efforts.
  • Keep an eye on the XM Institute site as we will be publishing more content on trust, and join the XM Pros community to engage in discussions about XM and trust with your peers and the XM Institute faculty.

The bottom line: Collectively, we can increase trust around the world.



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