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How to Build Trust with Customers, Partners, and Staff – Douglas Anderson, President & CEO for Carlson Wagonlit Travel

Douglas Anderson, President & CEO for Carlson Wagonlit Travel discusses the five key elements that can help your company establish trustworthy relationships for the long term.

By Douglas Anderson

Trust is at the heart of any good relationship—whether business or social. Building trust does not happen overnight; it takes considerable effort and time. And it can be destroyed in an instant.

In order to succeed, businesses have to build trust with clients, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders. Trust can be sustained and is often carried with people when they change jobs, making it an important investment. Creating trust is only one part of the equation; the other is nurturing and strengthening it. This is particularly true for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) because companies have to trust us to look after their most precious asset—their employees.

We’ve built long-term relationships with clients around the world. At the core of these longstanding, multilayered, and complex relationships is the basic concept of trust. Our clients have trusted us to care for and support them, leaving them to focus on running their businesses without worrying about travel arrangements.

As President and CEO of CWT, I have learned some valuable lessons about the importance of maintaining these trusted relationships. Those lessons are almost exactly the same, whether you’re dealing with a supplier, a customer or employee.

I believe there are five key elements to building a solid foundation of trust. Focusing on these areas can help any company of any size build trust for the long term.

  • Transparency

Sharing information is critical. One of the keys ways we build trust with our stakeholders is by sharing relevant, timely data, and hiding nothing.

With clients, we share overviews of their travel program, and the details are always available. With suppliers, we share feedback and insights from our clients. With employees, we share information on our business—the good, the bad, and—thankfully very rarely—the ugly. We focus on employee engagement and have created open communication channels at all levels of the company.

These steps help establish trust, but we also need to focus on maintaining it, each and every day. Ongoing transparent reporting is one of the key methods. A great example is CWT AnalytIQs, our new analytics dashboard. It provides our clients with real-time measurements and indicators about their travel program. It shows clients’ bookings in near real time and provides information on where all travelers are at that moment. It means we can provide clients with data in a transparent and easily digestible way. It is just one example of the many ways that we build and maintain our reputation as a trusted advisor to our many stakeholders.

  • Accountability

Doing what you say you’ll do is crucial to developing trust, and we put a laser-like focus on holding ourselves accountable. One of the ways we do that is by providing every client and supplier with a robust network of CWT employees to serve as relationship contacts. We pride ourselves on each employee being responsible and accountable to the groups they interact with, continually answering questions and suggesting new ideas to make sure the client has the best possible service, in turn ensuring the relationship is as good as it can be. When you call your CWT contact, you know you’ll get good answers.

Accountability is also key to how we treat our employees. We have invested in our HR system so employees can access relevant information around the clock and around the globe. We also have a 24-hour ethics helpline, combined with training, a dedicated Intranet, document library, and internal social media tool, all of which create awareness and accountability. Most importantly, they help create trust with our employees.

  • Responsibility and Reliability

CWT has around 19,000 employees. As with any large multinational organization, consistency is vitally important; our clients expect nothing less. We protect CWT’s reputation as a highly ethical and professional company by ensuring newcomers and seasoned employees alike are repeatedly exposed to our high standards through training and communication.

We do that through our robust compliance and ethics program, including our Code of Business Ethics & Compliance. We give our employees the responsibility of making decisions that could either build or destroy trust. To help them, throughout the year we talk to them about our commitment to compliance and ethics. We educate them on how we expect them to behave through online training, group exercises, videos, newsletters, and the like. And we hold them accountable to policies everyone has signed up to. In addition, we have established various vehicles, including regional conduct councils and ambassador programs, to help embed our standards throughout the organization.

  • Affiliations

 You are only as good as the company you keep. Therefore, we only affiliate with those who share our commitment to quality; we can’t afford to lose trust because of our partners’ actions. We do this through very careful consideration of the people we do business with—as a client or supplier or employee—before engaging with them.

Trust across the entire industry is also important to us. We’re involved in associations and organizations that broaden our in-house knowledge, further advance industry benchmarking, secure business accreditation, and ensure best practices are shared across industries. A good example is the United Nations (UN) Global Compact Ten Principles. CWT has been a UN Global Compact signatory since 2012, and we continue to align our responsible business strategies to the Ten Principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.

Another affiliation that has been beneficial to us is EcoVadis, which assesses 21 areas of corporate social responsibility, including areas such as environment, ethics, social and sustainable purchasing performance, and fair business practices. Its role is to review companies and provide accreditation. Knowing that we are in good company is important not only to us, but also to our stakeholders; no one wants to work with an unethical company.

  • Leadership

 Last, but certainly not least, I believe clear and unwavering leadership is paramount in building trust. As President and CEO, I constantly drive home this point to CWT employees, suppliers, and clients—the pledge CWT has made to ensure we maintain our high standards in everything we do.

Using a number of communication platforms has been a very effective vehicle for me. Our annual responsible business report, for example, details the efforts we take to be a responsible, ethical company. I also hold quarterly leadership calls where employees can hear about our business. They have an opportunity to discuss important topics such as compliance, ethical business, and environmental issues, and they can pose questions directly to the executive team.

Perhaps most importantly, I always make it abundantly clear that, while we do everything we can to help our employees and affiliates build and maintain trust, ultimately I am responsible for the trust our clients put in CWT.

Top tips for gifts, entertainment, and travel

  • Create a clear gifts and entertainment policy and continuously train and remind your employees
  • Allow for reasonable and limited gifts, hospitality, entertainment, and travel
  • Spell out in detail what is acceptable and what is not, including specific dollar thresholds
  • Develop a frequently-asked-questions document with real-life examples
  • Provide a vehicle for employees to ask questions and get real-time answers
  • Implement a process to consider out-of-policy gifts and entertainment
  • Properly record all gifts and entertainment and have your executive team periodically review them
  • Only work with suppliers who share your values
  • Make sure that you communicate your standards and expectations to the third parties working on your behalf

Author Biography:

Douglas Anderson is President & CEO of Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT). CWT is a global leader specialized in managing business travel, meetings and events. CWT serves companies, government institutions, and non-governmental organizations of all sizes in more than 150 countries and territories. As part of its commitment to responsible business, CWT is a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact Ten Principles.


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This article was featured in the Q3 2015 issue of Ethisphere Magazine. To subscribe and learn more about Ethisphere Magazine click here.

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