How to build trust in the digital era

April 24, 2018
by Lawrie Breen

We are living in a world that is driven by technology and this could lead to less face-to-face interactions with your customers, meaning that building trust only grows in importance. Some studies even suggest, and to a large extent I’d agree, that trust is the most critical asset a business can have in today’s digital landscape. Traditionally, trust in business relationships was built on handshakes, shared experiences, and first impressions – so how does that translate to a digital environment?

Trust must be part of who you are

We are connecting with our customers in different ways to how we did even 15 years ago, and trust must be implicit in everything your business does. It has to be a value that your employees live and breathe, and it has to come from the top. And it’s an issue where size truly doesn’t matter. You only have to look at Facebook to see the impact a lack of trust can have, with the social media giant’s shares tumbling in the wake of its recent data breach.

Some companies take trust to the extreme, such as social media company, Buffer, who have a 100% transparency policy, with everything from staff emails to management salaries being open to the public. I am not saying this is right for every business – or even most businesses – but a trust building mindset has to go beyond your sales team. It must be part of who you are as a business.

And if it isn’t, your customers will soon know about it. The power and speed of word-of-mouth in the digital age cannot be overestimated.

Little things can make a big difference

Take a moment to think about your customer experience. You might find that there are small things you can improve that will have a noticeable impact. Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Is it easy for your customer to talk to the right person? It might be something as small as updating your site with direct contact details for your service team, so that a customer doesn’t have to speak to more than one person to solve their problem. It could be providing additional service channels such as live chat, so your customers know they can always reach a human.
  2. Is your technology providing a positive experience? If your website is slow to load, difficult to navigate, or doesn’t use security measures to protect customer data, how is that reflecting on your business?
  3. Does your customer know what they can expect from you? Don’t hide things you think your customer won’t like, such as cancellation fees or refund policies, within terms and conditions. Making sure your customer is aware of their responsibilities- and yours – from the outset will ensure there are no nasty surprises down the track. This also extends to how you will use their data. For example, if you intend to send a regular email to everyone who provides their details, just say so.

Be prepared to admit you’ve made a mistake – and rectify it

This is one of the most important steps to building trust, yet one of the most often ignored in my experience. Even with the best laid plans, things can and do go wrong, and you must be prepared to act transparently when it happens. Answering customer questions before they are asked is always a better strategy in the long run. And this can’t be something you just pay lip service to – you need policies in place before mistakes happen. Make sure everyone in your business knows who to notify when something goes wrong and who is responsible for communicating to the customer. And it’s not just about written policies. Your culture must promote openness and honesty at all levels within the business, to ensure that when something does go wrong, the right people are informed, and nothing gets swept under the proverbial rug.


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