A column I was recently reading, by noted coach and businessman Harvey Mackay, contended that trust is the most important word in business. It made the point that people buy from people, not from companies.

I work in the healthcare sector, particularly hospitals and long-term care companies. People would rather not need their services, and it may be years before they need them. Studies seeking to understand how people choose hospitals have found that physician recommendation is usually at the top of the list. But how do people find that physician? Usually through word-of-mouth—from people they trust.

Healthcare entities are large, complex organizations, like most large corporations. How do you start to build trust for such institutions? I would contend that you first need to humanize the large organization that you represent.

As a former CMO for a hospital in NJ, I came into the position with a challenge. The hospital had been for-profit, and its idea of community involvement was none at all. The mentality had been, "We are paying our taxes, so leave us alone." The competition was eating our lunch. And now, as a not-for-profit entity, we were tied at the hip with a sister hospital that faced closing. More than ever we needed to tell our story.

Did we use billboards or fancy advertising? No. Simply, the strategy was to involve our senior team, and all levels of the organization, in the community. Simple things like joining the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and the like made a big difference. Because the community saw that human beings were behind the stark cold walls of the hospital.

In the end, when we had to make hard decisions about closing our sister hospital, the community understood, and most of our patients sought services at the remaining hospital—not our competitors.

To help build trust, start with the following five steps.

1. Be transparent

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Anthony Cirillo is president of Fast Forward Strategic Marketing Consulting, LLC (www.4wardfast.com) in Huntersville, NC. Reach him via cirillo@4wardfast.com.