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Economy pays a high cost for distrust

"Our distrust is very expensive."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson wasn't wagging his finger at daily commerce, but he still makes an excellent point. Things get more expensive when consumers lose trust in businesses. Consumers become less satisfied. Friction develops. And businesses can lose once loyal customers.

Which brings us to Clearwater's Karen Nalven, president of the Better Business Bureau of West Florida. She says consumers have lost a ton of trust in many types of businesses between last fall and this past spring.

"It's a big deal," she says. "Less than a third of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of trust in businesses."

So what does "losing trust" mean? Consumers feel businesses are less responsive to their concerns. Maybe the return phone call is a bit slower, the work a little more shoddy. Promises are not kept.

"People are still looking for quality in a product or service," Nalven says. The perception is things have slipped.

Nationally, Better Business Bureau surveys conducted by Gallup reinforce Nalven's local experience. The first survey was conducted last fall. A second polling of more than 1,000 adults nationwide followed seven months later.

The findings are startling. Between September and April, consumer trust in businesses — we're talking basic businesses, not Fortune 500 giants — fell in 13 of 15 industries measured. Overall, consumer trust dipped 14 percent.

The greatest loss of consumer trust, says Nalven, hit auto dealers and real estate brokers equally. But other businesses suffered, too:

• Double-digit declines in trust snagged department stores, gas stations, furniture stores, banks, home improvement stores, auto repair shops and contractors.

• Less severe declines in trust were felt by drugstores, grocery stores, office supply companies and electronics and appliance stores.

A few industries held their own. Trust was unchanged for health care insurers and even rose a bit for cell phone and wireless service providers.

Absolutely, our tough economy does not help. Layoffs and cost cutting — they make it rough for businesses to deliver top, timely service.

There's a silver lining here, says Nalven, whose West Florida Better Business Bureau territory stretches from Hernando County all the way south to Collier County. Now is the time for businesses to step up and recommit themselves to better quality and service.

Improve consumer trust and the economy will snap back quicker, she suggests.

Her BBB handles 30,000 specific consumer complaints a year, but consumer inquiries — i.e. "Are there complaints against the XYZ plumber?" — number a whopping 1.5-million annually.

A little more trust can go a long way, folks.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

>>Fast facts

Who gets most complaints?

1. Long-distance telephone service.

2. Retail furniture.

3. Credit card offers and plans.

4. Timeshare resales/vacant lot resales.

5. Air conditioning contractors and systems.

Source: Better Business Bureau of West Florida

Economy pays a high cost for distrust 09/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 5, 2008 10:12am]
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