Renewing Expo Chicago through Interpersonal Trust

A focus on interpersonal trust at Expo Chicago has been key to its revitalization and ongoing success.

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Contributor / Tony Karman

President and Director
EXPO CHICAGO / Arts & Culture

Trust is at the core of every transaction and serves as the foundation for a solid reputation. For EXPO CHICAGO, which convenes 140 art galleries from 17 countries and 43 cities for 5 days, building and maintaining relationships among stakeholders has been key to its revitalization and ongoing success.

Transcript

BUMPER: Expo Chicago: A Trust Deficit

Trust is really the core of any transaction. You begin to build it with an individual as a possible business partner. You use trust as the foundation with which you build your reputation.

Expo Chicago is an international art fair of contemporary and modern art.

It convenes upwards of 140 international art galleries from 17-plus countries and 43 international cities. It convenes them for five days in Chicago at a venue that was international or renowned for hosting an art fair for many years and that’s Navy Pier.

The fair had slid in many ways to a place where the art world or collectors just didn’t bother to come.

What we had to do is enter back in at the highest of level, but prove and convince the world that we mattered right away.

BUMPER: Building and Utilizing Interpersonal Trust

Those relationships that you begin in your early career done right, if you are trustworthy and full of integrity in both words, deeds and actions, will carry for many years of whatever endeavors you’re doing.

And I think that that trust, that integrity, that work ethic and ethic in the way you do business allows success to be achieved.

Trust and honesty is how I was able to build a foundation even to raise money for the International Art Fair. Major business leaders, collectors and civic leaders in Chicago that I approached to back the fair before it was the fair gave me their support financial support not necessarily because they wanted to make money, because the deal is not a multi-million-dollar deal.

If one looks at a transaction, how can I win all the time? I don’t think the long-term win is really possible, because after all, if both or several involved in that transaction aren’t finding a benefit from that, then there is no long-term future. There is no win.

And trust really is at the core, because after all, you can’t do that for the long-term if you’re not both trustworthy or have presented that opportunity in a sphere of what I think is a trustworthy and open way.

BUMPER: Winning Trust through Institutional Support

I don’t think Expo Chicago would be without the trust or the support of not only the business community, the civic community, the cultural community and, most importantly, the artists and the galleries and the cultural community of Chicago.

We know we were proud to have partnered with Jeanne Gang to design the fair. That was a statement of trust. That was a statement to the international art world that we were going to build an international art fair with the imprimatur and the stamp of a great internationally renowned architect.

I can spin or we can spin all we spin, but if the testimonial is coming from a trustworthy individual respected in their field, whether it’s a critic or a curator or a collector or an art dealer an influential art dealer, if they’re saying this is special or this is good or this is important, that sets a whole other layer of foundation for in my case an international art fair’s success.

I think that it’s a multi-cultural world, and clearly this is an international art fair that allows for 17-18 countries in 45 to 50 international cities to represent works from around the world. I would say building trust within that is no different than building trust as we’ve talked about individual to individual.

Trust in relationships, trust in partnerships, trust in vision, trust in those that were backing this fair and trust in the statements of support from our civic leaders, our mayor and our city departments, the collective of all of that allowed all of us working on Expo Chicago to present that first fair in a way that we knew was going to make a statement to the world and has continued to allow us to refine it, to grow it and to make it again a impossible fair to miss.

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Trust building begins by showing you care and are willing to comfort and support another.

Building Trust by Learning to Listen

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Contributor / Kelly Michelson
Kelly Michelson Pediatrics Healthcare,Reciprocity,Regulation The pediatric intensive care unit can be a very complicated place with a lot of players — there’s doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains; there’s a lot of people just in the PICU itself.

And then for a particular patient, there may be even more physicians — subspecialists, other providers, just a lot of people running around all the time and people changing over.

I think each component of this VALUE mnemonic is important: we want to value what the family is saying; we want to acknowledge whatever emotions the family is going through; we want to listen; we want to understand where the family is coming from; and we want to elicit questions from the family so that we know that they understand as well.

If I had to focus in on one or two things, I would highlight two. And the first is the L for listen.

When we’re having these conversations, one of the ways that we can help support families is to stop talking and hear what they have to say, even if it means silence, because sometimes it’s in the periods of silence that families realize what they can or feel like they need to say.

And then, the other piece of it that I think is really important and sometimes doesn’t get as much attention is the piece about getting to know the patient or the family or what their issues are — asking them sometimes personal questions about why they feel a certain way, why they’re making a particular choice, and even personal questions about what their situation is like, whether it’s unrelated to the actual decision or discussion that’s going on.

I think it’s really helpful to know that the patient likes to swing on the swing.

And that kind of conversation fosters a lot of trust and support from both sides. So, now the mother knows that I care about her child, or the father knows that we care about their child.

And the healthcare provider also has a personal investment in this particular patient because now I can see what this patient looks like swinging on the swing, and I have a whole different perspective after that kind of information.

BUMPER: Learning to Trust Your Patients

In pediatrics, it’s rarely the patient who decides — sometimes, but rarely — it’s often the parent.

In an ideal world, we’re all making decisions that are important for this patient; we’re not even making decisions necessarily about ourselves. So, when you feel like you don’t have trust for a parent who’s making a decision about a patient, it can be very challenging.

And I think that one of the things that can help mitigate some of those challenges and help smooth things over is to really focus on understanding why the parent is doing or saying what they’re doing, where their behavior comes from.

And I can give you an example. There’s a parent in the intensive care unit whose child has a cancer that’s metastasized and who will likely die — their child will likely die.

And this parent has very difficult interactions with the healthcare team and is often questioning things and doing things in a way that you can’t imagine how that’s helping their child.

But I think that if we understand what the perspective of that particular parent is and why he or she feels that way, and if we look back and we realize that maybe it took this particular parent two months to get their child into the hospital and they feel guilty about that and that they impacted the outcome and that a lot of those emotions influence how they behave, I think it can help unpack the situation.

Really trying to understand the perspective of the parent can be useful when there’s a sense of distrust about what the parent is doing and why.
Harry Rosen establishes consumer trust with every suit they sell.

Consumer Trust in Company Culture: A Competitive Advantage

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Contributor / Larry Rosen
Larry Rosen Retail Breaches,Building Brands,Institutions and Context,Leadership,Long Term Focus,Regulation,Retail I'm Larry Rosen, the CEO of Harry Rosen Inc., Canada's largest quality menswear retailer, and for us, trust has always been the centerpiece of our organization. And without earning the trust of our customers, without earning the trust of our associates and earning the trust of our vendors, I don't think we could point to 62 years of fairly significant success in men's retail.

We find that when you can earn a man's trust and make the process easy for him, he'll reward you with his loyalty over the years, and when you think of a man's shopping every year and building a business wardrobe and a personal wardrobe, that's pretty good annuity to have if you can keep his trust.

And so, everybody knows it's part of our cultural mission as a company not to let a customer down, not to lie to a customer. If something doesn't look right on a customer, you tell them. I mean, it's not about the sale today. It's about the long-term relationship we have. So it's not uncommon to hear on a selling day that, "You know what? That's not the right thing for you today. I don't have exactly what you need." To us, selling isn't about short-term. Selling is about lifetime value of a customer. And, you know, the other part of it is when you violate trust, when you let a customer down and listen, we have 1,000 associates, somebody's going to do something that upsets a customer where he feels he's been betrayed, and how we recover from that is so critical. I personally spend a decent part of my week dealing with customer problems¬¬ — we'll do whatever it takes to earn back that trust.

And even when they've lost confidence in us, when we react the way we do with that very, very proactive approach to earning back their trust, they come back to us. And in fact, they become more passionate about our brand.

BUMPER: Fostering a Culture of Trust

There's — the things that keep our associates in line with our values — there's really two things that really make a difference. One is, we as a company spend more on training, I believe, than any other company per associate. We train them on how to deal with the customers. We teach them all the philosophy of earning customers' trust. The other part that really is important, and this is, I mean, people have written on this, but it's not easy to quantify, is the culture of our company.

Our culture supports the right behaviors. It's funny because on occasion, a competition have come in and hung out big dollars and hired away people thinking they're going to get — going to get a piece of our expertise — but when the culture is a surrounding, the behavior isn't as natural, and people — people will behave in accordance with a great corporate culture.

BUMPER: Redefining Customer Engagement

It's interesting because on a strategy level, when we saw that the landscape was changing three or four years ago when the American department stores announced they were coming in, we realized that we had to look for competitive advantages that were compelling that couldn't be duplicated. Why do customers really choose us? What makes us a compelling choice? And what can we do that they can't imitate?

A pinnacle moment for us as an organization — as a relationship-based seller — came a few years ago when we used to call our associates on the floor, we used to call them sales associates. And we realized that that term really, I mean, everybody has this thing of a salesman on the floor and they, you know, the guy you have to hide from and who, when he approaches you, says, "May I help you?" and you say, "I'm just looking. Thank you."

And we changed their name to clothing advisors because we wanted a name that said that these are experts, that they're highly trained experts that are going to help make the shopping process for you easier. That one little change improved the whole culture of the organization, and I think it improved the client experience because we consistently refer to our people on the floor as clothing advisors.

You think it's, I mean, well, that's a simple name change. But it really encapsulated what we were trying to do and what our key competitive advantage was.
The change of name from a sales associate to clothing advisor, I think it really related a lot to the issue of customer trust. It supported our competitive advantage, but it also supported the fact that our clients could have trust in our associates to help them build their wardrobes and shop with us long-term.
Without trust and transparancy in business, consumers fall at risk of getting ripped off whenever they shop.

If You’re Getting Ripped Off, It’s Not Surprising

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Contributor / Niko Matouschek
Niko Matouschek Economics Building Brands,Leadership,Long Term Focus,Sharing Economy,Vulnerability I think it’s an underappreciated fact that successful market economies, like the U.S., exhibit a lot of trust — trust between market participants who are both anonymous (they don’t know each other well) and who are self-interested.

If you look at the sharing economy, for instance — to a large extent, their success depends on their ability to create trust between third parties, trust between somebody who wants to rent out their apartment and trust between somebody who wants to rent that apartment.

Or if you think about yourself — every day, you trust people who you don’t know and you trust them to do things that are actually not in their self-interest. And more often than not, you don’t get disappointed.

If I told my wife that the U.S. economy exhibits a lot of trust, she would be very skeptical — rightly so because the history of corporate misdeeds is a long and distinguished one to which we’ve had many colorful, recent, new entries.

But the fact that people get ripped off is not really surprising. What’s surprising is that they’re not getting ripped off more often. What’s surprising is that I can go into essentially any store anywhere in the United States and be reasonably sure that I won’t be sold a lemon. That’s what’s surprising.

BUMPER: Is It Naïve to Invest in Trust?

Firms do so in two ways, both of which involve making it costly for themselves to break their promises in the future. The first is that they hire people and are run by people who don’t just care about profits but also care about being trustworthy.

There’s essentially people, if you want, who incur a psychic cost if they break their own promise.

Now, in an age in which many emphasize the cutthroat nature of business, this may sound naïve and quaint, but it’s not, because, in a market in which trust is important, being trustworthy gives you competitive advantage.

A historical example of this are the Quakers in the 18th century, who played a very important role in the British economy at the time, even though there’s only a relatively small number of them.

And it’s often argued that one of the reasons for why they had such an important role in the economy was precisely because they were known to be trustworthy; they were known to follow through with their promises, even if it was not in their immediate economic interest to do so.

And that’s what gave them a competitive advantage; that’s why people seek them out to trade with them.

We see the same thing today with firms like Keller Williams and the like, trying to hire people who are not just skillful but also what they call “ethical.”

I don’t think that that’s just a cheap PR stunt; I think firms try to hire trustworthy employees not just because it’s a moral value that they might care about but because it’s an economic asset in which they can earn a return.

The second is that firms commit themselves to a long-term strategy that emphasizes and importance of repeat in future business — because if I’m not just a pop-up store but I also care about future business, then there’s a cost to me of breaking my promise to you today, which is that there’s going to be less business for me in the future.

So, repeat transactions can serve as a commitment device. For this to work, though, two things have to be true: First, not only me but also my employees have to care about the future enough.

And so, it’s important that I’m providing them with the right kind of incentives — with long-term incentives and not just short-term incentives.

And the other issue is that transparency is important. It’s important that customers are able to observe how I’ve treated other customers in the past.

So, that’s why things like feedback mechanisms in the electronic marketplaces are really useful because, there, if I cheat you, you’re going to go online and write a review, and that’s going to be costly to me. And because I know that, I’m less likely to cheat you in the first place.

BUMPER: When It’s Unwise to Trust

I think it’s rational to trust firms that care about the future, and it’s foolish to trust firms that don’t care about the future.

For instance, it’s foolish to trust a pop-up store. A pop-up store is not going to be around tomorrow, so they have no incentive to keep any promises they are making to you.

Maybe less obviously, firms that are close to bankruptcy — those are run by managers who care much more about today’s profits than about future profits because if they don’t increase today’s profits, they’re going to be out of business in the first place.

Another example would be firms in which employees are being rewarded very strongly for short-term performance — for quarterly earnings or quarterly performance — because, again, decisions are then made by employees who care a lot about the present profits, and they care much less about future profits.

So, again, these are the kind of firms in which I’d be suspicious about whether or not they’re going to keep their promises.

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Pages in The Trust Project at Northwestern University