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Addressing the issue of trust in a digital era

Nick Gold, managing director of Speakers Corner, unveils how his agency is morphing more towards consultancy from bureau thanks to a shifting business landscape – and why tackling the issue of trust has become paramount.
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Over the past three years, one key message has resonated with me: that the rapid evolution of technology will prompt a widespread loss of jobs, not to mention a realignment of industry to suit a workforce of automatons. And the issue of trust within business will need to be properly addressed.

Underlying this prediction is, of course, the belief that it will yield cost-savings. For example, if process-driven jobs can be converted into computer code, then manpower will have no sustained value.

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I accept this on an ostensible level and the argument has its merits, but it has always struck me as a simplistic way of examining the shifting business landscape. It clearly misses a critical aspect; does a given company adopting this mindset truly understand the real value it delivers to clients at a human level, particularly when it comes to the issue of trust? Who do you put your faith in most, man or machine?

In business terms, this conundrum poses two further questions (in order to understand the first): What does client value mean for any company, and how does tackling the issue of trust create unique and sustainable value? I look at my own experience for answers. At Speakers Corner, we have come to realise that, while ten years ago we thought our value came through our speaker contacts and connections, this has now fundamentally changed for one prime reason: the Internet.

This might sound a little odd, given the preamble to this piece, but there’s no doubt the 21st century has brought the concept of connectivity to everyone. We realised if all Speakers Corner did was offer a listing service, then we would no longer be providing value to an audience; the world wide web provided a useful catalyst for to reassess our brand identity, worth and offering.

Thus we came to realise our real value is not compounded from solely organising the logistical elements of events, but comes from understanding the client’s key drivers and goals. This understanding effectively moved us from being a transactional business into a consultancy business.

But there is another, important query which stems from this: how does value feed into the issue of trust? To me, the answer is in the question. In basic terms, through trusting us with your long-term goals, drivers and motivations, we can deliver a valued service to you by aligning ourselves and our speakers to this.

The main reason niche companies can exist is because such firms are experts in that sector. In turn, the best way for an organisation to maximise return from a supplier is to utilise the supplier’s knowledge and expertise as much as possible. So actively seek face-to-face meetings with clients in order to understand the value of personal relationships.

With this understanding, over the last three years, our biggest challenge (and no doubt that for other scaling SMEs) has been, and continues to be, “how do we educate current and prospective clients about our value to them?” As we continue to move down this road, we need to demonstrate our position as a leader in our industry, in terms of both delivery and thinking – and that rings true for all firms.

From a Speakers Corner perspective, there is one other fundamental challenge to a consultancy-based approach – a word of warning to other consultancy companies. While we provide clients with advice and guidance on their speaker selection, the revenue is only generated once a client has booked through us. If the value we are providing to a client happens before a transaction takes place, then, given the connected society we live in, the client can potentially take this value and utilise it for themselves. It all comes back to the importance of establishing and maintaining their trust.

Our need to build trust is not dissimilar to any business whatever the scale, from a one-man band to a multinational corporation. While our value is intrinsically in the advice we offer clients upfront, we always ensure the successful delivery of an amazing experience through our speaker, in terms of content, logistical support and delivery.

The combination of understanding that service along with a successful delivery will mean that a lasting relationship; it will develop into a long-standing partnership which benefits all parties.

Nick Gold is managing director at Speakers Corner

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