The hard truth about digital trust

There’s a lot of papers, blogs and articles detailing technologies we need to deploy to create digital trust. In fact there are so many technologies competing to say how they contribute that the message itself risks becoming obscured.

What is digital trust?

Trust isn’t a technology; it’s a feeling. Digital trust is not just cybersecurity but an integral part of experience, created from a number of elements and easily destroyed. It comprises:

  • the confidence a customer has in a service provider, including that their connection to the digital world will work as expected wherever the customer is and whatever they’re doing
  • the feeling that the customer, their loved ones, their money and their property are safe in the digital world (see also CCAPS)
  • the belief that their service provider will always work in their best interests.

It’s not that data, or processes, policies or technologies aren’t important to digital trust, but these simply underpin it. Trust itself is actually about people. It’s about whether people believe you. Believe that they can rely on your organisation’s integrity, its services, its commitment to deliver what it said it was going to deliver and so on.

Two levels of digital trust

The most basic level of digital trust is practical trust, which is still a challenge for many telecoms firms. Can your customers rely on you to deliver? Beyond this lies emotional trust. Do your customers believe you are honest with them? Do they think you respect them? Do they perceive you to be on their side? Do they approve of you and like you? Do they feel you listen to them and respond authentically to their needs? (see also The importance of empathy, effective communication & engagement)

Employee trust is an essential component of digital trust

Some telecoms firms are working hard to build trust internally, because they believe employee experience is vital and that a motivated workforce is key to their future success. They strive to build fair workplaces where employer and employee are truthful, admit mistakes and focus on solutions not blame. The want to create a workplace where people speak up, are rewarded fairly, take responsibility for their actions, are reliable, and listen to one another.

This type of trust is undermined when firms default to the age-old behaviour of mass redundancy. How is an employee supposed to feel trust and thereby motivation when mass redundancy tells them quite clearly that they are just a number; just disposable? And how are customers supposed to believe that a company that disposes of its employees in such a way is efficient, wise, likeable or has anyone’s best interests at heart other than its investors?

An employee focused organisation doesn’t just dispose of staff – it retrains them, reskills them and, if it needs to downsize, it finds new opportunities for them. How you treat your people speaks louder today than all your carefully crafted PR and it affects how your customers perceive you.

Trust is built communication by communication

Customers don’t trust their service providers because they don’t believe that they have their best interests at heart.

Trust is built communication by communication. When you bamboozle your customers with misleading marketing offers that overpromise, are rude to them in billing communications, lock them into deals that are no longer relevant to them, or sting them with overage charges you are actually showing them that you cannot be trusted.

Typically, telecoms firms speak out of two sides of their mouth. One side says: ‘we’re a caring, fun, exciting company that you want to have a relationship with’. The other side says: ‘pay now or else; we’re charging you a huge amount of money because you made a mistake (and it’s in the contract and there’s nothing you can do about it)’. This side of the mouth also comes up with a great ‘offer’ to grab headlines and mindsets, only for the offer to not be so great after all because it’s full of caveats and hidden strings. This is bamboozling in its finest form. It’s also a very dated way of approaching your business.

Learning points

  • Trust is a fundamental building block of loyalty.
  • The current approach of bait-and-sting isn’t working.
  • Employee trust and customer trust are interconnected.
  • You cannot say one thing and do another because you will quickly be found out and exposed on social media. Hypocrisy is one of the worst sins of the 21st century. It will poison your brand.
  • You are playing a game of Emperor’s New Clothes. Your customers are not only wise to you but prepared to tell their friends about their experiences. If you want to build a healthy future business you need to become the organisation you claim to be and that customers expect.
  • You are building your castle on sand. Your customer satisfaction metrics are worthless and are not driving loyalty. Most customers would switch if they saw a better offer because they don’t trust you.
  • Find out how to build trust in B2B relationships here.