Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback

There is an old Dutch saying that intends to remind people that trust takes time to build, but is quickly lost.

Vertrouwen komt te voet en gaat te paard.

Johan Thorbecke (1798 – 1872) – Dutch liberal statesman and one of the most important Dutch politicians of the 19th century. Thorbecke was almost single-handedly responsible for drafting the revision of the Constitution of the Netherlands, giving less power to the king and more to the States General, and guaranteeing more religious, personal, and political freedom to the people (Source: Wikipedia).

I had to think of this saying when reading an article in The Economist about the two key factors that shape consumers’ views of companies. According to Rupert Younger of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, those two key factors are capability and character.

A company’s capability is determined by the quality of its products or services. A company’s character is determined by how it handles customer complaints and disputes. What’s more, research suggests that “people and organisations alike tend to be judged by the worst thing they do”.

I shared these insights with my sister, who is the founder and CEO of Lindy’s Patisserie and relies heavily on marketing through social media channels. I say marketing, but it is actually more than that. Lindy’s team is actively engaging with customers and followers, responding to comments on Instagram and Facebook. At some point in time, she will undoubtedly have to deal with customers that express complaints through those same channels or possibly even social media trolls who are just being disruptive for the fun of it. When confronted with this, it is important that you stay calm, friendly, and professional in your response.

Trust has to be carefully established by consistently demonstrating the ‘right character’. RentItems, a startup I’m on the advisory board of, hired a Chief Experience Officer to ensure customers have a great experience and issues are handled with dedication and care. It underlines how important it is in today’s business environment, where everything is being reviewed, rated, and ‘starred’, to excel in customer service.

Thorbecke’s saying that “trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback” was true in the 19th century and even more true today.


  • The Economist, August 8th 2020. Bartleby: Called to account.

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