There are three layers of trust at which brands need to excel if they are going to build genuinely engaging relationships. However, understanding this alone is not enough. Trust in business is a currency that has value and is fundamental to financial growth in the experience-driven economies we see today.

If that sounds complex, don’t worry,  it really isn’t. The good news is brands can create trust dynamics with their customers and staff by understanding some simple neuroscience principles and designing experiences accordingly.

But, hang on, why has trust suddenly returned to the centre of the customer experience conversation? After all, trust has always been at the core of the buyer/seller relationship but perhaps something was lost in the last decade in the rush to transform and disrupt.

Today, however, it is the watchword on the tongue of board and C-suite executives.

While it feels like there is a critical need in modern business to gain the customer’s trust, and then to keep it, once upon a time, trust was … a simple matter of trust.

But now we find ourselves at a nexus point in the trust debate. Over the past few years, big corporations and governments have failed the trust test in many ways. In Australia, many financial institutions have had all kinds of bad behaviour exposed by the Banking Royal Commission. And major automobile companies misled the public about emissions ratings. Globally, the black mark of failure spans companies involved in industries as diverse as consumer credit, social media and social networking, and hospitality.

Governments and politicians are seen to manipulate data and the news cycles regularly to sway public opinion, election results and policy decisions. Simply put, trust in major institutions is at an all-time low.

According to researcher and growth strategist with SAP, Aarron Spinley, a key reason for the emergence of trust as a dominant consideration is a massive societal shift in the way it behaves, and in a very short period of time.

“One of the things that’s fallen out of that is the rise of particular biases that already existed in the human condition but are dominant biases now. Things like confirmation bias, Dunning Kruger effect, and cognitive dissonance. People have become super impatient, highly intolerant and  throw tantrums. It’s all about me. It’s all about now. And in  the better part of the last decade that has permeated consumption behaviour,” he says.

“We’ve seen the massive – and rapid – rise of the Googles of the world, but also social media platforms. Consumption behaviour got retrained by this type of omnipresent brand. And, because there was an associated rise of the ego system, we all became accidental narcissists. We took things that were very not subjective such as science, and turned them into belief systems. For instance, climate change – there are believers and disbelievers, and discussion around it is very emotive. This sort of behaviour  permeated everything. As a result, the way that people used to trust brands, collapsed. This is because the world suddenly gravitated around them and what they wanted. The context by which they approached a brand changed from just give me a product or a service to give me a product or service in the context of me.

“Simply, trust fell off a cliff and became this massive issue for corporates. They quickly began asking: ‘How do we regain trust?’ But a lot of the discussion and debate around that question is devoid of the root cause – mass societal change.

“Consider unicorns, which are privately held startup companies valued at more than $US1 billion. There were 10 or 11 of them, between 2010 and 2013, but since 2014 there has been another 360. These are new brands that are digitally connected and customer obsessed. Their whole DNA is geared around the customer, around the me economy. That’s nearly $US1.2 trillion of collective market cap in this space in the last six years. If you look at the surveys, most of the trusted brands in the world are these new guys and that is because the old guys are using outmoded in ways they engage”

And then there is technology. Today, it is the watchword on the tongue of board and C-suite executives.

With the advent of the World Wide Web and the digital revolution, suddenly it seems that everybody – consumers, buyers, businesses, governments – are running scared even more. That is because as the technology got bigger, better, faster, something extraordinary emerged: data, lots of it. The more you had the more valuable it became.

Data became both the big good and the big bad. People trusted businesses to look after their data, much of it rather personal, and to use it for the customers’ advantage.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t always happened. Hence, a new level of concern for organisations and, in some ways, the core of the trust question.

“Can you look after my data securely?” says the customer, whether it be an individual or business. And, then, “what are you planning to do with it?”

So how do we consider trust? The answer, SAP’s Spinley says is that trust is neurological in nature and operates at multiple levels, so brands need to execute consistently on each.

He says there are three levels of trust. The first level is foundational: Customers expect organisations to be able to collect, manage, and protect their data at both a technical level and at a policy level. This reflects both an organisation’s ability to secure data, and its philosophical approach to which data it collects and how it treats the privacy of that data.

Successful delivery at this foundational layer will provide customers with the control they need to feel like they are an equal partner in the relationship, assuming that is what is wanted.

The second level is experiential: Customers provide organisations with information about themselves either explicitly or implicitly through their interactions.

The value exchange they expect is that organisations will provide them with seamless and easy-to-use products and services that most accurately match their requirements and desires.

This value exchange extends beyond simply data, although this is critical. Just as important for this layer is the provision of contemporary and coherent interactions between channels such as sales, service, online, and mobile, for example.

The third level is reputational: Customers need to trust organisations to do the right thing by them. For instance, if a customer is due a refund they should not have to search or work for it, the organisation should know this already due to the sophistication of its system and deliver the outcome. This mirrors our human relationships.

Spinley says to deliver across any or all of these levels, organisations need sophisticated, contemporary technology, and that technology should enable the organisation to understand and leverage the relationship between both the operational and experiential data it holds on consumers and its customers.

But, and this is important, technology is not enough. The organisation also needs a culture which places the customer experience front and centre, and which is supported by policies and processes which deliver this outcome.

To achieve these outcomes businesses and governments need to implement robust, highly flexible information architectures that successfully exploit both operational and experiential data in a way that ensures the very best experiences for customers and prospects, and does so in an environment where respecting the value of a customer’s personal data is critical.

About this author

Mike Gee is a writer for the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit of which SAP CX is a corporate member. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply.

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