How, when, and how many of your long-term customers will be back? Do they have confidence that you've successfully weathered the Covid-19 storm and, more important, do they still trust you? You might even ask whether they trust anyone these days.

This is a difficult question to answer in the post-pandemic world and it's not getting any easier to figure out in the increasingly toxic atmosphere that surrounds us. Trust, in the best of times, is a precious and delicate notion and suspicion, not even proof, is enough in many cases to destroy its fragile fabric. Add in an out-of-control segment of the media and dozens of lying politicians promoting destructive fictions, and you have chaos, turmoil, and rampant misinformation.

The truth becomes ever harder to discover, promote, and protect.

Fox News spews constant lies, phony facts, and stats invented by deluded provocateurs and attacks the credibility of experts such as Anthony Fauci and other health authorities while claiming that Covid-19 vaccines are causing thousands of deaths. Far too many people, listening to this garbage, are convinced that our government officials are lying to us and conspiring to do us in.

When people no longer trust even themselves to know enough to make the right choices, they rely upon, and begin to depend on other, often simplistic and authoritarian inputs. Truth is replaced by show and spectacle, reason by rote repetition, and facts by blinded "faith." Jefferson said long ago that "a continual circulation of lies among those who are not much in the way of hearing them contradicted will in time pass for the truth."

Sadly, thanks to six-plus years of unrelenting assault by a disgraced and discarded huckster and his minions, the most precious component of democracy -- our trust in business, government, and one another -- is under constant and continued attack. And trust -- the very foundation of democracy -- is largely losing the battle. We see this happening with millions of Americans every day.  

In its earlier Trust Barometer reports, the public relations firm Edelman held out the hopeful prospect that, at a minimum, consumers and employees still retained some degree of comfort and confidence in the integrity and reliability of small businesses. But that was before the pandemic largely destroyed the office environment and killed off the water cooler conversations that were the primary sources of so many individuals' knowledge about what was going on in the world around them. Left in their own homes and to their own devices (no pun intended), many consumers didn't and still don't really know where to turn.

If you think for a moment that all the political and media goings-on at a national level aren't going to directly impact the way your customers will be acting and reacting to your own products, services and other offerings, you've got your head stuck somewhere. Expect them to be suspect and cynical of, and reluctant to return to, business as usual. They'll need considerable comforting and cajoling.

If you want your customers to return, you need to get busy. And, while it's helpful and necessary, straightforward marketing and advertising or just focusing on burnishing your brand isn't going to be sufficient. Your brand promise is important but delivering on it in real time and in the real world is essential.  

You've got a lot to prove to many tentative and confused people and only a short window to do so because you're competing now not simply with the guys down the block, but also with Amazon and many others in an enhanced, expanded e-commerce world that has become an everyday part of almost everyone's lives.

And you can't do it by yourself. You'll need your past, present, and future team members to get the job done. But not all of them. So, you need to focus on those who can most quickly help to address your customers' concerns and restore your customers' trust and confidence.

Every business will now need to carefully move to rebuild their connections with their customers and to be sure that they don't imperil the trust and loyalty that their customers once again place in them. Take the time to do a few key and important things really well. Things that matter to your customers.

Cutting corners, service and staff cutbacks, and other short-term compromises are the very worst things you can be doing at this moment. Doing nothing, on the other hand, is a sure way to lose. Focus on solid and consistent execution.

Your business is built on your brand (and its promise) and your brand is built on three simple ideas: authenticity, trustworthiness, and reliability. Each is especially crucial right now. Be the one people can count on and trust and they'll come running back.