Show the problems

Mention weaknesses before customers find out. They’ll trust you more.


  • The Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky started pre-emptively reaching out to affected patients and their families when they identified a medical error, communicating openly and honestly about the issue and its ramifications. This is in direct contrast to the majority of healthcare providers, who seem to work on a principle of “deny and defend” when faced with an adverse event. The program led to average malpractice payouts of $14,500 per case. That compares very favorably to payout rates at other VA facilities, which averaged $413,000 for malpractice judgments, $98,000 for pretrial settlements, and $248,000 for in-trial settlements. Despite having more claims overall, probably as a result of improved patient awareness, the Lexington VA hospital still had the eighth lowest total claims payments among all VA hospitals.


Although it’s tempting to hide any flaws away, it is often beneficial to mention weaknesses or issues with your product or service before customers find out. They’ll subsequently trust you more because you have shown that you have the integrity to be open and honest with them.
We are wired to reciprocate, and so when someone has already apparently demonstrated that they are trustworthy we reciprocate by trusting them in return.

How to build trust from problems

  • See weaknesses as an opportunity to build trust rather than as something to be hidden away. It’s better that you manage the message around the weakness rather than leaving it to someone external to the company who will shape it to their own advantage.
  • Be open and honest. It’s hard to over-communicate, especially in times of crisis.
  • If you find yourself in a trust incident, think how you will demonstrate your technical competence (ability), concern (benevolence) and fairness (integrity).
    • Ability: Have a pre-prepared plan and policy for how you’ll handle trust incidents. Acknowledge that a trust incident will cost you money, but that it’s also an opportunity to manage losses and demonstrate aptitude.
    • Integrity: Stick to facts, not speculation. Even if the fact is “we don’t know the answer yet,” it’s important to remain accountable rather than having to backtrack later.
    • Benevolence: Demonstrate that you have given affected people more than was expected in terms of apologies and recompense.

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