Trust in Utilities at All-Time High; How Can Companies Capitalize?

We cannot begin to count the number of unsung heroes that have come out of this pandemic. From frontline healthcare workers to grocery store clerks, package carriers, manufacturers, and all the other essential workers who stayed on the job, often at the risk of their own health, to enable our lives to go on with as minimal disruption as could reasonably be expected.


And there’s another behind-the-scenes group also deserving of recognition: the energy, utilities, and mining (EU&M) professionals. From technicians and line workers to oil and gas drillers, these are the people who kept our hospitals running, virtual calls powered, and delivery trucks fueled throughout the pandemic. It might seem a monumental feat to some, but it was just another day on the job for these “essential workers.”

The kudos could not be more merited, which is why we’re pleased to see the results of PwC’s recent “Trust in US Business Survey.” Some 80% customers say trust in EU&M companies stayed the same or grew over the past year and a half—tied with consumer markets for tops among all sectors.

While there’s reason to be proud of this performance, as those in the industry know all too well, trust earned during the pandemic could be eroded or lost at any minute. From responding to storms to delivering on the promise of a carbon-free future, consumer trust is always on the line, with the stakes greater than ever before. That’s why we’re taking a moment to look at how trust can be gained, maintained, and even lost.

Know Your Stakeholders, and What They Want Today and in the Future

Business leaders in most sectors need to consider two groups as stakeholders: their employees, and their customers. For EU&M companies and their potential contribution to the carbon-free future, there is an additional unique stakeholder: society at large.

Our survey shows that business leaders agreed with these stakeholders on the four most important aspects of trust: data protection and cybersecurity, treating employees well, ethical business practices, and admitting mistakes.

As we think through a carbon-free future, many elements of existing operations will be stretched. New energy production models, new fuels to feed the industries we serve, and new transmission and distribution options, to name a few. Knowing what our stakeholders will need and demand 10 to 20 years from now can help us prepare today to meet the promise of the future.

When customers and employees trust you more, you’re more likely to strengthen your trust with other key players, such as shareholders and regulators. Increased consumer preferences, societal demands, and many other factors are shaking up our industry—meaning the stakes are as high as ever.

Get on the Same Page

When asked to name which drivers of trust are most important in a company, the top choices for customers and employees were accountability (50%), clear communications (48%), and admitting mistakes (40%).

Survey results revealed a break between what business leaders find important and whether they’ve put it into practice. Accountability, for example, is deemed “extremely important” by 56% of business leaders, but just 46% say their companies have implemented it.

The same goes for clear communications (72% find it important, but 64% have implemented it) and admitting mistakes (51% vs. 46%).

Every EU&M company should pause and think about where they are in their trust journey. We are entering a new era of energy and utilities, where new business models, emerging competitors, and new technologies make communications and transparency with stakeholders more important than ever.

Building trust should start with a strategy from the senior leaders, and every executive and employee should work in coordination to continue to improve on the matter. A strong foundation can help eliminate the disconnect and focus efforts on initiatives that can really move the needle and back up words with action.

Create a Plan, and Commit to It

Business leaders overwhelmingly agree that trust is important, especially when it comes to factors like customer loyalty (73% say it helps a lot). But when it comes to building that trust with stakeholders, challenges like diverse stakeholder perspectives (43%) and current company culture (41%) can get in the way.

That’s why it’s important to deliver on a finite set of actions. Trust can be earned only when we commit to our purpose and values and then prove that we can deliver on them continuously. Consistency and reliability are key. Providing reliable, affordable clean energy to businesses, homes, and society is still our goal. It starts with a promise, but a concrete strategic plan to achieve our goals is key. Be committed to it, don’t be afraid to evolve it, and remain transparent to those who are impacted.

Consumers and employees both say they trust business more now than before the pandemic. Trust entails responsibility, and we all need to continue to up our games to maintain and grow that trust. Connect purpose to all your actions, and be intentional about creating a culture of transparency that addresses your stakeholders’ top concerns.

Taking concrete steps to align all your stakeholders’ interests is important in this regard. Examine your commitments and goals on everything from net-zero carbon emissions to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) dedications to the communities you serve and society as whole. It’s a monumental shift, but once we achieve it, the trust can allow us to serve generations to come.

Danny Whigham is the PwC US Energy, Utilities & Mining Consulting Leader.


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