Building Consumer Trust in Times of Transition

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Eight hands, of various skin colours, coming together to form a circle.

Original media release from Consumers International, written by Helena Laurent, Director General of Consumers International.

Arriving in Davos, I’m struck by how much has changed since last year’s gathering, and how great the opportunity is for businesses to maximise the customer care revolution.

Rebuilding trust and putting people at the centre of a more prosperous trajectory is the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. It’s a theme that chimes well with our core values and our focus on consumer care, a concept that’s evolving rapidly as technology reshapes almost every part of our lives.

Most sectors are undergoing major transformations. The energy world is shifting towards green power, generative artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing rapidly, while e-commerce and digital finance are becoming ever more embedded, impacting how we shop, spend and save.

Consumer advocates are responding by ensuring consumer rights are upheld as the marketplace undergoes rapid change and acting as an early warning signal to unfair or harmful practices. But we also have a powerful role to play in championing meaningful, positive innovation when we see it. What’s clear to me is that we’re at a tipping point for business model innovation, and that for those companies willing to think big, embrace change and push forward, there’s an opportunity to affect real change and leave a long-lasting legacy.

Using change as a force for good

Working more effectively for consumers in a fast-changing world requires a new level of understanding and engagement. This means going beyond surface-level commitments and embedding consumer rights every step of the way. 

We all have a chance to pre-empt the risks that arise from the wide-ranging transformations taking place, particularly in technology. Regulators, technology companies and consumer care leaders need to collaborate to ensure we build trust and cement the relationships that exist between companies and consumers.  

A consumer-first approach isn’t always easy or cost-free. Business leaders face a choice, and that’s what we’re going to be addressing at Davos, with many already leading from the front on consumer care and safety. 

The most innovative companies are already taking steps to protect and empower consumers, ensuring their privacy and data transparency. While advances in technology and digital communications bring increased risk of scams and fraud, they can also be harnessed to enable and promote healthy and sustainable consumer choices. 

Business models of the future

We can already see examples of consumer centric business models emerging. 

In the energy sector, consumers want simplified, integrated experiences, and there’s a huge opportunity to deliver that. Solar energy providers like Reposit Power and Octopus guarantee zero electricity bills by selling systems alongside ongoing maintenance and optimisation. The solution is beneficial for all: consumer receive better aftercare and the companies can promote better efficiency. 

In food, Chile’s Red de Alimentos has established a network of companies and partners to deliver food that would have been wasted to schools, hospitals and vulnerable families. The effort has expanded and now includes major retailers like Walmart and tech companies including Google.

And better transparency should be a goal across all sectors to enable consumers to make better and more sustainable choices. 

Consumers lead the way

Among US consumers, 78% say a sustainable lifestyle is important to them, according to NielsenIQ research cited by McKinsey. Products making environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related claims averaged 28% cumulative growth over the past five years, versus 20%for products that don’t. 

Progress is not without risks: consumer care can slip down the business agenda in tough economic times or as other priorities take precedence. Transitioning to better customer service has a cost, and there’s a danger of this being passed on to the end user. 

Even so, basic consumer care can offer a platform for growth and show organisations to be innovative and bold – characteristics that foster customer and brand loyalty. 

The examples we’ve discussed are putting the consumer at their heart, giving reasons to be optimistic against a backdrop fraught with risk and where advances in technology and AI are putting trust at stake in a way that could have very serious implications. 

I’ll be in Davos all week, attending the Forum’s Annual Meeting alongside more than 2,800 leaders, seeking to collaborate on creative ideas and solutand to uncover more emerging, consumer-centric business models that have the potential to be scaled up. 

I’m excited to be sharing this space with so many innovators and looking forward to exploring ways we can work together to make proactive, positive change for consumers around the world.