When RadioShack CEO David Edmonson resigned last month after it was revealed he allegedly lied to the company about his education, executive chairman Leonard Roberts said the incident had hurt the company's integrity.
"When our company's credibility becomes based on a single individual, it is time for a change," Roberts told the media. "One of the most important things we have as a corporation is integrity and trust. We have to restore that back to the company."
Issues of integrity and trust have been hounding technology companies lately. Take Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the ubiquitous BlackBerry. The company is mired in an ongoing legal battle with patent holder NTP, which sued RIM for patent infringement. The lawsuit could lead to a shutdown in service.
But with RIM fighting the lawsuit, and the threat of a shutdown, RIM customers across the country are left to wonder about the future of the service, and whether they can trust RIM. Had RIM settled the lawsuit, it would probably be business as usual. But the unknown outcome has hurt RIM when it comes to integrity and trust.
Wes Brown, a partner with customer research and trend firm Iceology, says some customers are likely to be angry that RIM dragged them through several years of legal wrangling and uncertainty, instead of settling. And there will be those customers who need to be reassured this won't happen again. RIM needs them to trust that it is doing the right thing for customers, not just the company.
But most people do trust technology companies. In Edelman's recent Trust Barometer survey, technology companies fared extremely well, because they represent innovation and the future, said CEO Richard Edelman at a recent presentation of the survey. The one issue that could diminish that trust is concern about whether technology companies are doing enough to protect people's privacy, an issue creeping into public discussion.
Google recently made headlines for refusing to turn over search data to the federal government as part of an investigation into pornography. Microsoft, Yahoo, and America Online have all complied to a degree, turning over information that did not identify search results or who made the searches, only search terms. Yet Google came out looking as if it were the company most dedicated to protecting user privacy, the company users could trust.
But that might have been squandered, as the federal government has lambasted Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft for complying with Chinese government requests to censor search results, in order to do business in the country. Politicians have chastised the companies for putting profits over people, with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) calling the companies "agents of repression."
So much for being trusted to do the right thing.
The companies have countered that they are still providing more information than was previously available, and they can affect change more easily by working with the Chinese government than against it.
All of these companies' brands have taken hits, to varying degrees, over trust --it's an issue of are these companies doing what's best for customers, and also doing what is right. It's rare to hear technology companies talk about trust these days. But companies will quickly learn that if customers can't trust them, they'll gladly do business with a brand they can trust.