A matter of trust(s) - how to win your customers'

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Do you trust me? It's a reasonable enough question, and an important one. At some point it will crop up in most of the relationships we forge in life. Like Rose on the bow of the Titanic, we must decide whether we do or do not trust our Jack.

Now imagine posing the same question to your business customers. What do you think their reply would be? People are cautious and savvy to marketing tricks, and businesses are faced with the challenge of winning over a cynical, spoilt-for-choice consumer. Trustworthiness, when combined with expertise, earns a company credibility (more on that in an upcoming post in the science of marketing series), so establishing trust isn't a fuddy-duddy bonus for your brand; it’s a make-or-break part of the sales process.

Two kinds of trust

Psychologists identify two kinds of trust: cognitive and affective. Cognitive trust is knowledge-driven and refers to your customers' confidence in your competence and the reliability of your service. This rides on previous experience or word-of-mouth recommendations.

Affective trust, also called emotional trust, is your customers' sense of feeling safe, valued and cared-for. Unlike cognitive trust, affective trust is usually based on direct, personal experience and deepens over time as the relationship grows. Because it is rooted in emotion, it can also cloud consumers' objectivity, so it's a powerful force when harnessed correctly.

For example, I may have once been impressed by BT's reputation. I may even have heard many positive stories from friends about their customer service. However, since my actual experience with BT has been a protracted series of miscommunications and connectivity cock-ups (culminating in the temporary disconnection of my employers' business broadband), the telecoms giant's rear-ending of my affective trust means they will forever occupy a trust black spot in my heart.

Trust in an online market

With more trade taking place online and more businesses relying on this often impersonal marketplace to sell their wares, the question of trust becomes trickier. Unable to infer whether or not you're trustworthy from the kindness of your smile and the sincerity of your furrowed brow in person, online shoppers must look for other signs such as the design and copy on your website or what others have said about you online, and they may place more importance on these than on the price tag.

When asked what would prevent them from making a purchase online, respondents in one study responded as follows:

  • 30 per cent said privacy and security concerns
  • 25 per cent said lack of customer service
  • 9-15 per cent said the absence of their friends or a real salesperson.

Lack of human interaction and greater perceived risk makes shoppers uneasy. So what allays their fears?

Clues and cues

A website's level of privacy and security is often hard to gauge, so shoppers look to its functionality and design (how professional does it look?) and the reputation of the company itself. Without the reassuring presence of other in-store shoppers, this reputation is very important in establishing cognitive trust, as is the testimony of other satisfied customers.

Website usability must be excellent and written copy must be professional and high quality. The same standards must be set for the images used, and all visuals must be coherent across the company brand.

(Interested in learning more about what images can say about your business? That's also covered in our science of marketing series.)

The customer experience must be easy and rewarding if you're to stand any chance of gaining affective trust, and customer service must extend beyond the duration of the transaction, with guarantees of continued engagement and follow-up support, should it be needed.

Gender differences

In order to earn the trust of your customers, you have to know who they are. We look in more depth at how creating personas can help brands to tailor their marketing campaigns in another blog post, but for now let's take a look at a broad category distinction, the male-female divide. Studies have found that men are generally less concerned about privacy than women and are happier to part with more sensitive information.

Women tend to perceive online purchases as riskier than males do, but we all show concern about security of online transactions and passing on credit card details, for instance. The use of visual cues such as images of padlocks can alleviate much of this fear, as does the reassuring s for security which is often seen in the "https://" prefixed to a web address.

Women are more responsive than men to these cues, so if you're targeting a female audience, be sure to use them and to reassure customers that their data will be treated in confidence and not shared.

A rundown of some top tips to boost customer trust and business cred

  • Make sure your website design is modern and user-friendly, with a coherent brand
  • Link to other reputable websites and highlight any awards and endorsements you may have.
  • Show off your case studies, media coverage and testimonials - and use photos of the people endorsing you
  • Collaborate with other businesses in your industry
  • Write for industry publications to display thought leadership
  • Attain the URL relevant to your company sector – .org, .gov, .edu or .ac etc.
  • Avoid linking to other businesses you have vested interests in without full disclosure.

You might be more used to hearing "Trust me, I'm a doctor" than "Trust me, I'm a salesman", but business sales live or die by customer trust. Armed with an understanding of the various kinds of trust customers have to offer, and knowledge of the ways in which different personas respond to cues and triggers, there's no reason why your business shouldn’t be the Jack to their Rose. 

If you work in a marketing department and are interested in learning more, why not register here for one of our free seminars on the science of digital marketing?

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