By Robert Craven, MD at The Directors’ Centre
There was a golden age in the years before the internet.
Clients of lawyers, accountants, architects, business consultants and financial advisers looked up to and respected their advisers. In fact, it was a two-way thing.
Advisers understood what it meant to be professional. They worked on behalf of, and in the best interests of their clients. Clients trusted you and you valued the trust that they imbued in you. But that trust got shattered.
Cunning advisers in almost every field would take advantage of their position. By definition, the professional expert had been trusted to do everything in their power to improve the lot of their clients. But now things had changed. Advisers started to work on their own account. They put their own needs (or should I say greed) ahead of the needs of their client. They started to abuse the trust.
As it happened, the next thing was that the internet came into the equation.
The actions of the few unscrupulous advisers had muddied the waters for all their kind. All got tarred with the same brush. But the internet seemed to redress the balance.
For a start, the speed and reach of the internet meant that a good or a bad reputation got spread ten times faster than in the old-days. More importantly, much of the so-called precious, hidden, ‘expert’ information was now available for all and sundry to see. It took a few clicks of Google and there it was for all to see. The big ‘secrets’ were no longer so secret.
The days when people in authority abused their power were over. Hurray! At least that’s how it seemed.
But be warned, because now there is a different kind of knowledge and it is in the hands of your clients. I am referring to the half-baked, semi-, demi-, wiki-cum-people’s knowledge that is very much a mixed blessing.
Doctors now see patients who have already self-diagnosed and are in a state of perpetual anxiety as they have looked up maybe 23 potentially life-threatening diseases they may have contracted which any expert could see was flu. Lawyers have clients quoting case law as if they had been in articles for the past five years. And on and on it goes.
Now, the downside of such a situation is clear. Everyone’s an expert and a little bit of information is a dangerous thing. The upside is that clients will be savvier, more aware, and will no longer take recommendations at face value.
I see this as an opportunity. The experts, those in authority, need to recognise that their reputations have been battered. Priests, politicians, bankers and pop stars are at the top of the list of abusers. Lawyers, accountants, architects, consultants, journalists of all kinds have all had their share of damage caused by the abusers of trust.
To stand out in this new world requires you to have a reputation beyond reproach. You need to recognise that people have always talked but now they talk to several thousand people with the single click of the keyboard.
There will always be a place for honest servants of their clients (after all you do serve your clients!) whose actions vindicate, validate and justify the trust that has been put in them. Every industry will have their abusers. You, however, need to consistently deliver with honesty and integrity.
Actions speak louder than words. Your reputation is created and spread by your clients. End of.
We are not talking about some kind of cover-up or euphemistically called reputation management campaign. We are talking about acting and behaving with respect for your clients and their needs. All the time. Always.
Remember, a pig with lipstick on is still a pig, no matter how you look at it.
PostScript — the same applies to food manufacturers and their inability to put the advertised ingredients into their products!