Trust is not a finite quality that can be taken for granted once and for all after it has been—usually painstakingly—earned: it’s a process that continues over time, in which substantial resources must be invested and which must be managed step by step with extreme care. Trust in business is a scarce resource and a valuable currency, the indispensable asset to succeed in building sustainable relationships with customers. Developing a trust strategy is the best way to administer it.
What does a trust strategy consist of?
A trust strategy is a long-term action plan within which a system of coordinated actions aimed at developing, maintaining, and increasing trust.
If the strategic priorities and areas of interest on which an organization focuses inevitably change to adapt to a constantly changing environment, the expectations of customers, employees, and stakeholders also change. The confidence of all stakeholders will rise and fall depending on the responses the company is able to make with respect to the emergence of new needs or the rise of new collective sensitivities. For example, civil society’s demand for greater safety for workers may become more pressing; employees may demand compliance with a set of ethical principles in the use of the latest technologies; customers may want to be reassured about the transparency of the supply chain.
An organization, whatever policies it decides to adopt, will be held accountable for violations of publicly made commitments. Brand reputation depends, quite literally, on this very ability to live up to its promises. That is why all activities that constitute corporate action—exploration, analysis, prioritization, action, and production—will increasingly have to be designed with the impact they have on stakeholder trust in mind.
Only by integrating the different initiatives within a trust strategy can trust be monitored and managed just like the other drivers of business value.
Trust strategy: the two steps to building strong business relationships
Trust is a concept that refers to the most deeply human dimension of relationships between people and at the same time is also the foundation of all transactional relationships.
In fact, business is based on the success of relationships that are first and foremost personal and that cannot exist outside a space of mutual trust. Put another way: any manifestation of commerce cannot be separated from the trust that the participants in the exchange have (or do not have) in each other. A trust strategy is concerned with governing both of these dimensions (human and transactional) and does so through two basic steps.
Acquisition of knowledge
Trust cannot develop in an information vacuum but must take root in a common ground of knowledge.
That’s why building strong business relationships means, before anything else, getting to know all of those who are involved: colleagues, partners, customers. It means developing a genuine interest in each of them, in their uniqueness as individuals. If companies are to find new ways of building trust that is suitable for digitized markets, one key is definitely personalization. Being able to rely on the most exact knowledge possible of consumers, partners, investors, and employees provides the minimum conditions for designing the most relevant solutions with respect to the needs of each of them.
We can identify three components that acquired knowledge should possess in order to be useful in building a trust strategy: granularity, relevance, and consistency.
- Granularity. The information gathered through digital tools now makes it possible to know one’s audience with a much higher degree of accuracy than in the recent analog past. In this case, the challenge for companies is no longer to “extort” a consensus, as was the case with the cold calls typical of interruption marketing, but rather to correctly select, organize, and interpret incoming data from a multiplicity of sources in order to extract timely insights that are useful for developing a trust strategy.
- Relevance. The relevance of the insights that organizations are able to obtain by applying increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques—“carving them out” from an often chaotic mass of information—is determined by the degree of relevance those insights show with respect to the particular contexts to which they relate. What really matters to the real customer? How does a company’s business proposition generate value for the target audience? And if we cannot always speak of relevance to the individual customer—even though one-to-one marketing is now a reality—we can certainly relate the question at least to the segment to which the buyer persona in which that customer is embodied belongs.
- Consistency. Relevance and coherence are two similar and contiguous concepts: while relevance concerns the ability to project the service, product, or brand into people’s daily lives to understand how they can make an effective contribution in solving concrete problems or fulfilling wishes, coherence has to do with a precise quality that the company’s narrative must possess, namely the logical and value conformity of all its communications. Ambiguous, superficial, incomplete (though not necessarily bad faith) knowledge inevitably leads to the production of discordant messages and diminishes an organization’s authority and trustworthiness.
The need to acquire an articulate and extensive knowledge of one’s interlocutor is thus the basic premise of any trust strategy, where trust is conceived as a top priority. At this point, we can ask ourselves: how do we acquire the knowledge necessary to trigger and keep active the virtuous circle of trust within the trust strategy? The possible answers are numerous. Here, we simply point to those that are probably the most effective: use of social media, adoption of a multichannel or omnichannel approach, and implementation of inbound marketing techniques.
- Take advantage of social media. People are willing to invest time in order to form meaningful relationships, even in virtual spaces. The use of social media, in its infinite uses, can be framed within this need for sharing: submitting one’s experience to groups with common interests by recounting it through personal (and therefore authentic) content on the one hand helps the user achieve his or her goals (maturation of a sense of identity, willingness to participate, need to inform oneself, etc.). On the other hand, it puts the company in a position to have access to increasingly rich customer profiles. By taking advantage of the general increase in opportunities for brand interaction, a company can take advantage of the ubiquity and precision in audience segmentation that social networks enable, and can do so in several ways: by educating and informing about products and services; by responding to questions, comments and private messages; and by offering advice and recommendations. And it can also focus on in-feed customer engagement: not just by responding every time someone leaves a comment, but by nurturing consumer interest through giveaways, posting quizzes, holding contests. The greater the perceived value of institutional posts (in terms of granularity, relevance, and consistency), the greater the chances of building solid, trustworthy business relationships.
- Adopt a multichannel or omnichannel approach. A second mode of knowledge acquisition that is widely used within a trust strategy is the synergistic use of different channels to create new and lasting connections with all stakeholders. From emails to video calls, from social networks to corporate blogs, from webinars to live events, from corporate chatbots to personalized and interactive videos: the possibilities for a conversation between brands and customers are multiplying, becoming even more productive, and are often experienced as more authentic. More and more companies are adopting an omnichannel approach to be able to intercept consumer trajectories throughout the buying process, at different times, on different channels (largely online but also offline) and in different forms. And increasingly, consumers expect to proceed in their customer journey seamlessly and perceive as more respectful, attentive and trustworthy those brands that allow smooth transitions between channels.
- Implements Inbound marketing techniques. From a theoretical perspective, Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating tailored content and experiences. It makes connections between the brand and people, helping them to focus on as-yet undefined needs and to find and manage solutions to their problems. The main tactic is the creation of high-quality content, featuring keywords and phrases aimed at maximizing SEO (search engine optimization), to attract visitors and leads. Inbound marketing populates web pages and blogs with this strategic content. Visitors and leads, once they have been properly “engaged,” including through participation in the brand narrative promoted on social channels, provide useful contact information for promotions, follow-ups, and sales processes, while at the same time helping to increase the company’s knowledge of their buying habits, preferences, and often latent needs. Inbound marketing proves particularly effective in building an authoritative digital presence and can in this sense offer important support within a trust strategy.
Creating the best possible customer experience
Customer experience (CX) is the result of the set of interactions a person has with a brand during the buying process (including those interactions that occur after purchase). It also expresses the overall degree of satisfaction that the customer experiences during the relationship with the company, off-line and online, from first contact to retention.
The much-cited PwC survey of 15,000 people finds that 1 in 3 customers would abandon a brand they love after just one bad experience and that 92% would choose another company after just two or—at most—three negative interactions.
This is to illustrate how CX is, increasingly, the differentiating factor behind consumer choices.
Since the 1910s, the internet has reshaped the business communications ecosystem and enabled the rise of the digital customer experience, the customer experience in the age of digital transformation. There are two main elements of this paradigm shift:
- the development of technologies and models of interaction that have enabled new modes of contact with which the brand can intercept the target audience;
- the change in the status of the consumer, who from being a passive spectator has been able to participate in the dialog with the company, finding unexpected opportunities to be seen and recognized and to have his or her voice heard.
Digital transformation has made companies more accessible, simultaneously forcing them to develop more streamlined and powerful channels and modes of communication with which to respond to their customers in a timely, respectful, and responsive manner (e.g., by reducing or canceling wait times).
The customer service touchpoint plays a critical role within a trust strategy, and it’s an important area for companies to invest in to gain and cultivate customer trust. Customer service is the most immediate space for interaction between the two parties and is a kind of stage on which a company can showcase the value and legitimacy of its actions. Excellent customer service is articulated in a frictionless, linear path where users are guided toward the resolution of a problem or the definitive answer to a concern.
Through technological tools that enable personalized and interactive activities, customer service operators are able to convey empathy and a sense of responsibility, thus cementing the customer’s trust in the brand.
Invest in new communication to develop an effective trust strategy
In this post, we have emphasized the natural process nature of the limited resource that is trust. We focused on the trust that people come to feel toward organizations. We have described how a company can build a credible, authoritative, and trustworthy image by developing a trust strategy, whose steps we have summarized, in two major moments: knowledge acquisition and customer experience design.
In general, we can conclude that communication is the direct line that runs through and holds together all moments of a trust strategy.
A company—but the converse is true for any organization that needs to maintain a trusting relationship with people in order to function—must learn to communicate as transparently and effectively as possible, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by digitization to show, within the new spaces of confrontation and conversation, that it knows how to truly listen to each of its interlocutors.