Life is much easier if we can trust the people, institutions, and organisations we engage with - that's why trust is one of the most important factors in both brand and customer experience. There are specific tools for building trust for brands, and specific tools for building trust in customer experience.
What is shared is that we need to send people signals of trust. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, distrust is our new default. We need to be even more focused on building trust in our brands and embedding it in our approach to customer experience.
Four pillars for building brand trust
1. Be Celebrated: Fame drives trust
People trust famous things. It’s an unreliable human trait, but one that works in favour of brands that invest in making a name for themselves. The mere fact of being well-known creates trust. If your budget doesn’t stretch to multi-million-dollar media buys, it’s still worth considering how you can create the illusion of fame.
Rory Sutherland uses the example of brightly coloured flowers 'advertising' their attractiveness to bees. But flowers have to deliver the goods, or they’ll soon be found out. Even bees will only be fooled for a while.
2. Offer clarity: Share your vision for the future
Simply telling people what your plan is builds trust at a brand level. Where are you going, what’s the vision?
Vision is something you, as a brand, control. Increasingly, people expect a brand to communicate a clear story; after all, no one knows your vision unless you tell it. It conveys ‘a safe pair of hands’ because it shows you are in control and taking responsibility. Clarity reduces uncertainty and cognitive load, signalling, “you’ve got this, so I don’t have to worry about it.”
3. Connect: Make eye contact and show you're in touch
Connection most overtly reflects the role of reciprocity in the customer relationship. How can your brand empower customers and engage them so they can provide input? How can you be transparent when communicating with customers?
The connection doesn’t have to be a big social issue, it can be as simple as acknowledging the relevant part of people’s lives that you connect with. McDonalds demonstrated that they heard the concerns around plastics by switching to paper straws. Heineken declared “When you drink, never drive” and backed it up with “If you’re driving, don’t drink Heineken”.
The introduction of Afterpay's buy-now-pay-later to bottle shops in Australia and New Zealand, enabling alcohol to be bought on credit with the promise of zero interest, is a good example of not connecting well. If they’ll do that, then how can you trust them as a brand to do the right thing by you?
4. Be consistent across brand and CX
Our deep dives into this issue make it clear that trust matters at the brand level but has to follow through to customer experience. Consistency of the narrative across brand and customer experience is what underpins trust.
Brands are what they say and what they do, so if people see cracks between the two it sows the seeds of distrust to an audience already in a distrust by default mindset.
Building trust in Customer Experience needs different tools
Customer experience places different demands on trust signals. An important signal is meeting (or exceeding) expectations.
Trust, at the brand level, sets our expectations for customer experience. High trust in a brand allows us to enjoy the anticipation of an experience - dialling down worry and uncertainty. We simply trust the brand to deliver. This trust means we don’t put off engaging in an experience, for example, changing service providers or completing an online purchase.
But remember the example of the brightly coloured flowers and bees: setting expectations imposes an obligation to meet people’s expectations.
Signals of trust during the experience can run counter to traditional customer experience design theory.
In CX, we focus on making things easy, effortless and frictionless. Typically, this results in hiding away the messy business of how we deliver the experience. But customers are in an heightened emotional state, experiencing anticipation, and perhaps anxiety or uncertainty. A purely frictionless experience can feel insipid or boring. Not a good match for that emotional state.
Brands are starting to realise that a bit of operational transparency and showing the workings behind the scenes isn’t such a bad thing. Think about how an open kitchen in a restaurant drives trust. I can see the chefs washing their hands; I can see the care they take, placing my stuffed courgette flower at a 30-degree angle on the plate; I can see how hard they are working.
Sam Tatam, in his book Evolutionary Ideas, quotes an example of showing the effort that goes into the product from Monteith’s Cider. They put twigs into each box of cider as a signal that they worked hard picking apples to make the cider. Domino’s Pizza’s shows you how your pizza is tracking. Subway has used operational transparency for years.
Why do these tools and ‘tricks’ work to build trust? Because they show that you, the brand, are putting in effort on their behalf. It is an overt signal of reciprocity. Moreover, it doesn’t just create warm feelings of trust, it increases customer’s satisfaction with the experience. It lays down memories of the experience which sets a positive frame of mind for the next experience they have with you.
A final note on effort: Show don’t tell.
We know that if a customer rates an experience as low effort on their part, there is a positive correlation with overall satisfaction, which is what you would expect. What is more relevant is that if you also ask people to rate how much effort the brand put in, the correlation with satisfaction is even stronger. The customer’s trust in the brand is confirmed by the reciprocity shown by the brand putting in effort.
This could be as simple as pre-populating a form, a signed card by the housekeeper to tell you your room has been thoroughly cleaned using this checklist, or just showing where a parcel is on it's journey the recipient.
It is not enough to put the effort in, you also need to show what you’ve done.