How can businesses build customer trust through digital relationships?


Digital has become the primary customer touchpoint for many organisations in the past year. But how can you build customer trust and loyalty without the 'human' component? 

1st Mar 2021

Building trust with customers is crucial because we know trust is a deal breaker or deciding factor in customers brand buying decision. In a recent PwC survey, over 70% of consumers saw trust as the most important factor when buying from a brand. And during the pandemic trust has really come front and centre with 82% of customers saying that a business’s trustworthiness is more important than it was a year ago according to the latest Salesforce State of the Connected Customer Report

But building trust in a digital environment is a more complicated scenario. 

Before we start to explore trust in digital interactions, I thought it would be useful to define what trust is. Essentially it means that if I deal with you, you will treat me fairly; communicate with me honestly; deliver upon your promises; and be there for me if I need any extra help. It’s pretty straightforward and shouldn’t be difficult to do. But we all know that trust takes a long time to earn and once eroded it is often difficult to rebuild.

Nonetheless, if you do it well, it will build my confidence in you as an organisation and I will begin to trust you. And if I trust you, I’m more likely to carry on using you, and will possibly spend more with you, tell other people about you and forgive you if you make a mistake. 

This is what happens when you shop locally. Think of your local butcher, baker, greengrocer or corner shop. You know these individual shopkeepers, the quality of the goods they sell, the service they provide and they know you, allowing them to deliver upon your expectations and so you trust them.

But building trust when you are a large brand or company is quite a different story and much more difficult, and doubly so when you are having to do this in a digital environment.

The cornerstone to building trust amongst customers is all about delivering the basics brilliantly every time. This means doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it. Respecting their time by making interactions fast and easy, being open and honest in the way you communicate and treat them, providing support when they need it and protecting their data.

Eight steps to build trust

There are a number of things that a business needs to address to build trust in digital channels while simultaneously eliminating the frustrating things that customers encounter which can destroy trust. They fall into eight steps:

1. Capability & reliability

This is all about doing what you promise to do, when you promised to do it. Doing this is crucial in ensuring customers achieve their goals. They will leave organisations who don’t deliver on their promises or commitments. Customers may forgive you once and give you another chance depending on how the situation was handled, but are unlikely to forgive you when you disappoint them again.

There are two key components to achieving consistency, they are

  • Capability - The ability of an organisation, its people, processes and systems to deliver against the promises made.
  • Reliability - The ability of an organisation to deliver against their promises every time, because customers need to know they can count on you.

This is also where the value proposition of a brand comes in as it sets a customer’s expectations. When you set your value proposition, you need to ensure you are delivering against it. Never overpromise and underdeliver as that is a perfect recipe for losing customers and profitability.

2. Simplicity & ease

An organisation’s digital services need to be almost frictionless and intuitive, making it fast and easy for customer to use saving them effort and time. Therefore, you need to ensure that you don’t make customers jump through unnecessary hoops to accomplish simple goals. According to a recent Eptica study, nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers ranked making it simple for them to do what they wanted as one of their top three reasons for trusting a brand.

You need to do this across all stages of the customer lifecycle, from enquiring about a service, buying a product or service, onboarding, making changes to a service or account, getting help, responding to their feedback, making a complaint or ending a relationship with you.

3. Transparency

Transparency helps to build trust with customers. So, ensure your pricing is transparent with no hidden surprises when customers get to checkout. Clearly display your contact details so customers know how to reach you if they have any queries or problems rather than make them search for it.

Encourage customer reviews and feedback and display them on your website and show them all good and bad (along with your response to the negative ones). Doing all of this shows customers that you have nothing to hide and that you’re trying to be as forthright and honest as possible.

4. Communications & clarity

Good communication is essential to gaining the trust of customers as it eliminates doubts and saves them time. So, try to remove any ambiguity that might confuse customers by not using lots of acronyms, jargon or technical terms that the customer might not understand. Instead, things should be phrased in straightforward plain English. That way customers won’t need to "read between the lines" and make assumptions of their own to understand what you're trying to say.

In addition, ensure that there aren’t any misspelled words and poor grammar in your digital channels and that the information you provide is consistent across all your digital channels to prevent confusing customers with conflicting information.

Ensure all links work as there is nothing more annoying for customers to get a link in a chat, email of text message that doesn’t work. Let customers know where they are in a process and clearly outline what the next steps are.

5. Proactivity

Be proactive and let your customers know there is a problem before they notice it. If you know there is going to be a disruption to their lives or a problem with a service such as delays in processing an order, stock availability or a delivery is going to be late, let customers know in advance before it creates an issue for them.

It tells customers that you were aware of the promise you made to them, as well as helping to reset their expectations. They feel slightly more in control and are less likely to be as upset as they would have been if you didn’t let them know in advance. Doing this proactively will help them to trust you and was one of the key recommendations for organisations from the 2021 UK Customer Service Index report.

A great example of proactivity is banks and credit card companies alerting customers of suspicious account activity. But Amex goes one step further alerting you each time a payment is made letting you know what is happening in your account via their phone app. Allowing customers complete visibility as to what is happening in their accounts, which gives them peace of mind.

6. Accessibility

Customers expect organisations to provide a seamless, cross-channel digital experience, but all too often their expectations are above what many businesses can actually deliver. There are numerous contact channels an organisation can make available to customers and, as we all know, new channels emerge but old ones don’t disappear.

Just because new platforms exist doesn’t mean a business has to adopt them. It is far better to deliver a great customer experience across five channels than a mediocre one across seven. Yes, ideally it would be wonderful to offer customers the ability to access you via any channel they wish, but before adding a new channel like video, IM or VM, you need to ensure you have the ability and capacity to do it well, otherwise you will damage trust.

7. Integrity & empathy

An organisation’s online presence needs to reflect the purpose of the brand and demonstrate that they’re acting in an empathetic, ethical way with integrity - that they are doing the right thing by their customers, staff, suppliers, the surrounding community and the environment. This is what helps to build trust, and it makes sound business sense because 64% of people choose to buy from brands they believe are doing social good.

Those brands that behaved badly or have profiteered will lose customers - according to the Edelman Trust Barometer over 20% of people have convinced others to stop using a brand that acted inappropriately during the pandemic. Conversely, those brands that behave well and with integrity and purpose will be rewarded - according to Salesforce, over 70% of people say that brands that show empathy earn their trust and loyalty.

8. Security & privacy

Customers realise that they may need to trade their data for access, convenience and a more personalised experience. But they want to know that your organisation will not misuse their data by selling it on and that you will protect it from being stolen. If a data breech does occur that you will inform them immediately and tell them what steps they need to take to recover from it.

It’s also about a customer feeling in control of their data. They don’t want it to be used in a creepy way to personalise things without their consent, so give them a choice and ways to opt-in on how it can be used in communicating with them. In addition, they need to have confidence that when they buy products or services from you that it is secure by using trusted encrypted platforms, identity verification using passwords or biometrics, order confirmation receipts with contact information in case of any questions.  

Building trust through digital channels - complex but rewarding

As you can see building trust in your digital channels is quite a complex thing. It’s about establishing a relationship with customers that adds value to their lives.

If you can deliver a useful, helpful, consistent experience that meets their expectations every time you’re in a great position to gain their confidence and trust.


Replies (3)

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Sven Esser
By SvenMuc
01st Mar 2021 10:17

Realy great article Amy! However, I focus just on 3 main points. This doesn't mean the one or other direction is wrong or better. It is just another view which overlaps in many points.

Within business we want to connect with clients and customers, connect in way which is based on values. One value is trust which is the foundation for a great experience, an experience containing the elements premium, connected and personalized.

For me, trust is build out of empathy, logic and authenticity

1. Quality of logic. Arguments must be stringent which they are often not enough.
2. Communication of logic.

1. To much attention on what people think about us. This is not conducive and makes that we are not ourselves and interchangeable.
2. Room for being authentic. Authenticity must be save and welcome.

1. Typically people do not to believe that we are mostly in it for them. They believe that we are to self-orientated.
2. We all have much to do, high targets and many things to think about…. we have less time for empathy.

More in my series about trust... https://esser.me/the-series-trust-as-the-foundation-for-interaction

Thanks (2)
By Nick Elsom
04th Mar 2021 10:32

Interesting, particularly as Trust is an area we've been working to evolve from a vague notion to a measurable business driver. Our concept of a 'Trust Dynamic' has its roots in some of the points you make. The one thing I'd add to your summary is perhaps the most important, and yet it's often left as implicit when it should be up front, number one, can't progress without it. I refer to the authentic and honest voice of the Customer, without which any steps to build Trust are going to be built on shaky foundations. Yes, data tells us so much, primarily about past behaviour. It tells us very little about their attitudes, desires, passions, needs, wants. All your steps are very sensible, logical, good practice, and hearing the Customer voice is costly and difficult. But without it, as your title suggests, we really ARE operating in a world which has made redundant the vital human element.

Thanks (1)
Gangadhar Krishna customer service delightingcustomers.com
By Gangadhar Krishna
04th Mar 2021 13:07

Good article.

All the steps are useful to note, ponder and work on.

However I was drawn to step three 'Transparency'. I notice over 80% digital businesses want all details of the customer but don't want to share an iota of information about the company. This has become a trend. They don't realise the number of people that close these sites and go elsewhere.

Similarly are organisations that need your credit cards details before the start of the one month free trial period. Why ask for the customer payment details when it is a free trial period? Have faith in your product/s, deliver seamless customer experience and have the confidence and trust that the customer would continue after the free trial to paid membership.

First perform, then seek payment. Deliver your side of the promise and after the free month ask for his/her card details. The other way around gives the impression they don't trust themselves, forget the customer.
They seem more interested in your card, than their credibility.

Thanks (1)