“Trust Me”: Something We Can Count On?

by Doug Bruhnke

The ways in which businesspeople connect with others is being transformed through digital technologies amidst the rigors of COVID and widespread public distrust. How can we establish and grow trust to successfully drive business growth and the world’s digital transformation? How can we shape systems in a fully digitized and integrated economy? These were questions that we handled at a recent event, and it reminded me of a transaction that I made at the side of the road in Greece that predates COVID but remains a valid example of building trust in trade. Read on to hear the story and gain tips to reduce risk for your business.

Trust is something we think about and act on every day at Global Chamber® and, specifically, we’re building trust within our global network in order to facilitate easier and more productive business for members. Our systems are intended to help members understand the level of trust that we have with anyone whom we introduce through warm introductions or at our events. 

If during business activities we are involved with normal, random “networking” in business development, it makes “safe” trade difficult. The implied “trust me” request in that case requires due diligence, and sometimes that can be hard and certainly it is not instantaneous. 

What if there were a way to have a better idea if someone was going to live up to their promises and value proposition, that “trust me” actually could be done fairly quickly? That’s why we’re creating our global tribe of leaders worldwide, continually vetting everyone in the global tribe to make it safer to trade for everyone, so that with each renewal, the member is more trusted.

Definitely check out every potential client and partner you plan to work with, and always ask if they’re members of Global Chamber and for how long. Almost certainly if they’ve been a member for multiple years, you’ve found someone you can trust. That track record is important, because having multiple years with multiple deals done reduces the chances of the next deal going wrong. (It doesn’t eliminate the risk; only reduces it.)

This challenge that we face in global business is illustrated in a short story about an exchange I had at a roadside stand while driving through Greece near my wife’s family’s hometown of Koutsopodi, which means “crooked foot.” In the case of the roadside stand, a trade was done but only one party was satisfied, and it wasn’t me! That was despite the two of us doing some sort of accelerated “due diligence process,” which wasn’t enough.

Koutsopodi is in the region of Argos, about a two-hour drive from Athens. While driving around the area, my wife, daughter and I came upon a roadside stand selling oranges. “Stand” is a bit of an overstatement since it was a guy, a table and some bags of oranges. That region is known for oranges, and so it seemed like a good idea to stop and pick some up. I pulled over and got out in the countryside on a beautiful sunny day in Greece, blue sky and blue ocean — magnificent! 

Issue number one was that the vendor didn’t speak English. I don’t speak Greek. 

Issue number two was that he was smoking a cigarette and offered me one. I’m not a smoker.

I took the cigarette and there we were, the two of us, on a country road in Greece overlooking the sea, each smoking a cigarette, and “connecting” in some sort of due diligence. Finally, we spoke in our own languages and I was able to understand the price, so I purchased a bag. We stood there in silence until we both had nearly finished our cigarettes, then I waved good-bye and got back into the car.

That exchange viewed from inside the car by my daughter did not go well; she had been watching with my wife and couldn’t believe that I had smoked. I got quite a scolding! She didn’t understand the need for that. I did my best to explain but I wasn’t successful.

We got back to the hotel in Napflio and I set the oranges on the table and opened up the bag. It was then I came face to face with two surprises. First, each orange had a stamp of “Sunkist” and “California” on it. Second, they were all overripe and mostly rotten. The illusion of trust through that cigarette on the side of the road was simply that, an illusion. He got his money. I got a free cigarette and a story to talk about forever about building trust in a business transaction. We can do better!

Anyone in any business will have a comparable experience somewhere, sometime. That’s why we’ve built and continue to build a trusted network everywhere around the world — so you don’t need to smoke a cigarette on the side of a road to determine if a potential deal is going work out. To be fair, you should always be careful and do your due diligence. But working with the global tribe reduces the time from meeting to deal, and eliminates the smoking, too.

As the world comes out of lockdown, there are additional issues that arise as we weave in more virtual aspects to business development, fulfillment and overall. You’ve managed to be successful in business till now, and that has undoubtedly included a variety of shifts and changes, including immeasurable updates in technology. Now, we just need to make a few more steps ahead to be successful in the next phase. We can do this! Let’s work toward a business and personal world of trade built on a foundation of honesty, high ethics, transparency and cross-cultural understanding in a new age of globalization driven by technology.

Our collective growing dependency in technology has led many to recalibrate their relationship with it. People enjoy reaping the benefits of technology, such as increased connectivity, flexibility, access, speed, etc. — although the ones reaping most of these benefits skew younger (under 45) and wealthier. Tech issues like security hacks, inappropriate or illegal surveillance, misuse of personal data, spread of fake news and misinformation, algorithmic bias, and lack of transparency are regularly hitting the headlines, feeding a “techlash” and resulting in distrust.

People can feel a gap between the individual and societal benefit of technologies. With emerging technologies like AI, blockchain and self-driving vehicles, there are similarly concerning consumer sentiments, as people worry about job loss and being unable to quickly adapt to new skill sets and knowledge requirements, leading to a fear of being left behind.

We need digital trust to drive business growth and shared prosperity in the communities where we live and work. How do we achieve it in a reasonable time frame? With so much at stake, it is imperative that we rebuild and rethink “trust” among consumers, employees and citizens. And that’s why we at Global Chamber think about it every day, and why we’re doing something about it, to help us grow.

Doug Bruhnke is founder and CEO at Global Chamber®

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