Introduction by Roger Allen, managing director of Zeta

Simon Merry has been brought in as a consultant by Zeta to provide an outside view on the perceptions of our business from a client’s perspective.  Trust and confidence are of crucial importance to us in our relationships with customers, suppliers and staff. It is critical that our beliefs are projected via the way we present our company on the web. We like what Simon says and the way he says it, which is why we have invited him to contribute a series of guest posts to Zeta.net.

Trust and Confidence is Key

Our Survey Says

Put the words ‘trust’ and ‘internet’ into a search engine and one of the first results you get exclaims that 98% of people don’t trust the internet. Ok, statistics don’t have a very good reputation either, but the finding is an alarm warning for the digital industry.

Despite a lack of faith in statistics (and surveys for that matter) there is a persistent and topical question about trust in people and institutions, and things in general. There are several annual trust indicators based on opinion surveys, all revealing varying degrees of trust. For example, in the Ipsos Mori truth-telling survey, only 4 in 10 respondents expect business leaders to be honest!

When we talk about ‘trust in the internet’, we don’t so much mean the workings of the world wide web, we’re largely referring to trust in the people who ‘operate’ the web and those transacting business through the internet. This, of course, both reflects and impacts upon business leaders. But before we bemoan levels of confidence we should put things into context.

How critical is trust? First, ask yourself, ‘on a scale of 1 to 10: how important is it for consumers to have trust in the internet?’ – and then on the same scale, consider the actual level of trust consumers currently have. If the respective answers are 4 followed by 2, it’s not such an issue, but if it is 10 followed by 2 (or .02 as indicated in the survey referred to above) then we have a problem!

Again on the subject of surveys, a lot do no more than seek headlines based upon faulty comparisons. The subject might be trust, satisfaction or something else, but often it’s a comparison of ‘apples vs pears’. For example, what does the relative trust in ‘the internet’ versus ‘business leaders’ versus ‘estate agents’ really tell us? The relationships, risks and rewards are very different. However, these perverse headlines often lead to three unhelpful corporate responses: embarrassment and over-reaction, mid-table complacency and top-of-the-table arrogance. The simple score is probably of more value than the position in a league table. Bottom line: it is valuable data in the right context.

The Business Case for Trust

If you have judged that trust in the internet is not important, read no further. If you are still reading then it’s worth starting to explore why trust is so critical to effectiveness, efficiency and business outcomes.

We often hear business people talking about trust as if it were a mysterious entity driven by elusive forces; however we should be familiar with the concept because trust is a human emotion. There isn’t a league table of the most influential emotions, but if there were, ‘love’ might feature at the top with ‘trust’ not far behind.

Trust is nice to have and it brings dividends – top of the list of benefits is probably customer loyalty. Trust is inherent in close and enduring relationships – both personal and business (one piece of research identified that on average a lost customer costs £6,500 worth of effort to replace).

You probably also listed customer advocacy as a benefit of trust? That is, customers proactively telling positive stories about you, or at least not telling bad ones (of course, a negative tweet can go along way). In addition, trust brings customer feedback, tolerance and courtesy to your staff. All these dividends are important factors for growth.

This all works for larger entities as well: the global economy, national currencies, whole industries as well as the internet. Trust really does guide the marketplace.

Looking in the Mirror

Turning closer to home, you may now be asking yourself about the level of trust (and confidence) in your own business, particularly if it is influenced by wider faith in the internet. The same questions apply: how important is it that clients and customers have trust, and what level of trust do they have? Do you really know?

Further self-reflection might extend to the level of trust you secure across potential consumers in your business area. How trustworthy are your competitors? Are you a digital ambassador and are you differentiating yourself from competitors, as well as seeking to build trust in the internet?

This is the first in a series of discussions about trust and the digital industry. We finish with a return to earlier questions: on a scale of 1 to 10, how important is trust in the internet and what do consumers really think about it?

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