Is Your Company Losing Trust? New Research Shows Consumer Expectations Are Up, Customer Service is Down, Millennials Rule, and Price Still Matters

Share Article

BBB Trust Sentiment Index uses Nielsen data to pinpoint areas of concern; consumers having same or more negative experiences

The Better Business Bureau today released new research that shows about three out of five American consumers start from a point of trust when engaging with a business for the first time, and their expectations are increasing even as their customer experiences too often disappoint. The “BBB Trust Sentiment Index,” based on research conducted for BBB by Nielsen, introduces a new standard for measuring consumer trust in a marketplace where trust is increasingly becoming a key strategic priority for businesses and institutions in building long-term relationship with consumers.

The BBB Trust Sentiment IndexSM created a trust scale from 0 (start skeptical) to 100 (start with trust) to assess the consumer experience in today’s marketplace. Overall, consumers do have an inclination to start with trust; the average overall Trust Sentiment was 67.5. Males (70) are more trusting than females (62.5) and Millennials ages 18-34 (72.5) are more trusting than those 55+ (62.5). Trust sentiment also varied with type of business.

“One of the most startling findings in the research is that customer expectations seem to be increasing faster than customer service is improving,” noted Dr. Rubens Pessanha, PMP, SPHR, GPHR, senior director of research, insights and strategy with the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) and principle author of the research report. “We found that 41% of those surveyed said they had a negative customer service experience in the previous 12 months. Even more concerning, three out of four said the number of negative experiences with companies is about the same amount of (or greater) than it was three years ago.” This is important since service quality is a key aspect of how consumers build or lose trust in businesses.

Another aspect of trust sentiment that should concern businesses is the “hidden voices” of those whose problems are unresolved. About 1 out of 3 consumers never complain to a business or to a third-party, as they perceive it’s not worth their time.

“This is where trust really erodes and businesses lose an opportunity to better themselves,” said Pessanha. “A lot of factors go into how businesses earn and lose trust, but one area where they can really lose people is hard-to-use customer service and poor handling of complaints. Consumers want to be heard and, even when there is a problem, 6 out of 10 will do business again with companies that assume responsibility and resolve disputes. The way a business handles a complaint shows that they care about their customers, and are therefore more trustworthy and honest in the eyes of those consumers.” BBB concludes that businesses need to make it easier for consumers to engage and pay more attention to these “hidden voices” as they seek to improve customer relations. The research found that when customers contract a business directly to resolve a complaint, most found it difficult to do, and almost half of those businesses did not resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction.

One of the more interesting findings in the study is the power of Millennials to influence reputation and trust in the marketplace via online reviews. The survey showed that Millennial consumers are about four times more likely to post a review when they have a good experience with company v. when they have a bad experience. Although almost all consumers read reviews and ratings, Millennials (18-34) are more likely to post reviews or comment on social media than other age groups, and are more likely to post positive reviews, which give their impressions and opinions an out-sized impact on a company’s reputation in the marketplace.

Pricing does matter, although it did not rank as high as honesty/integrity/ethics. Higher than expected prices were cited as one way consumers lose trust in a business. A minority of consumers (about a third) said they would consider purchasing from a company with poor ratings or reviews if the price is right for the product they want.

Other key findings of the report are:

  • Businesses interactions are human interactions. In-person is still the preferred customer service channel. Even half of all Millennials would prefer to talk to a person instead of using an automated telephone system, even if it means waiting on line for the next available representative.
  • The top causes of customer frustration: 34% bad customer service; 24% product or service different than advertised; 15% product or service was not delivered; 13% billing issues; 8% could not return item or get a refund.
  • The top factors for earning trust are: honesty/integrity/ethics; good reputation; competitive prices; good customer service; reviews and ratings; recommendations from family and friends; quality.
  • Consumers rely on ratings, reviews, and the opinions of fellow consumers to a great extent, and businesses in every industry need to take their online reputation seriously


ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for the local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national and international programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation

MEDIA CONTACTS: For more information, journalists for national media outlets should contact Katherine Hutt (212-705-0131 or khutt(at)council.bbb(dot)org). Journalists for local media outlets should contact their regional spokesperson (

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Katherine Hutt
Council of Better Business Bureaus
+1 (703) 247-9345
Email >
Visit website