Earning trust is not easy. It’s even harder online

As part of our season on trust, Zone business director Jake Sargent looks at the challenges faced by brands looking to cement their digital credibility...

Granary Square

It’s only five letters, but it’s a big word, trust. It’s hard not to default to all of the usual cliches – difficult to earn, easy to lose – but they are cliches for a reason. Trust is important. If you don’t have it, then things begin to unravel quite quickly.

Trust is important in life and therefore important in work. But how do brands manage this thing that remains so inherent to their success? Because, let’s face it, creating trust isn’t getting any easier – cyber security is really hard.

Transferring information digitally is definitely easier than it was when we first started buying online back in the mid-1990s. But people have both more daily information to contend with, as well as the chance of that information potentially having malicious intent.

I was on holiday recently and having just moved house, I was making the most of the downtime to take care of some life admin. That meant largely having to change my address with all the usual sundries. Bank, driving licence, energy companies – you get the gist.

It was then that this idea of trust got me thinking. Each of the organisations that I wanted to inform of my new address had to create a sense of trust that my change in details would be saved in the right way and shared with the right people.

There is an inherent trust that accompanies certain organisations, such as the DVLA. The Government Gateway has reinforced digital trust by creating an excellent and robust platform with straightforward UX. Bravo.

For others however, it can be less straightforward. Connecting via an open wi-fi network in my remote Spanish villa, I was already slightly uneasy. So when my bank offered one of their ‘chat agents’ to help update my details, my scepticism meter (doesn’t everyone have one of those?) rose a little higher.

I was reassured somewhat when, having felt the need to question whether I was talking to a chatbot or not, I received the slightly indignant response of “I am a human.” I ploughed on and after a few awkwardly structured sentences and some typos (from my chat agent not me, I hasten to add…) we got the job done. But it still begged the question as to why I had a niggle about the validity of my conversation despite being logged in to my bank, which is surely a stalwart of online security?

This heightened state of paranoia was fuelled further, when having completed my life admin, I turned my attention to my son’s fifth birthday present, which needed to be ordered in time for our arrival home. The unease was less about the decision as to whether to opt for Lego or Transformer, but more about the fact that I couldn’t get into my account with a well-known online alternative payment provider.

They suspected my account had been tampered with and were asking me to create a new password. Surely rule number one is that you’re never asked for your password in full, unprompted?

In actual fact, all was well and they were merely taking a precautionary measure, but what could they have done differently to make me feel less like I was about to become another phishing stat? Letting me know as soon as they suspected foul play would have been good, rather than waiting until I attempted to log in. Or perhaps doubling up the new password request with a corresponding text message could also have helped.

Either way, we have to tread very carefully when creating frameworks for our users, both to create reassurance and maintain simplicity. Let them know that we are who we say we are and that we’ll do what we say we’re going to do, without piling on layers of unnecessary complexity.

It’s a challenge we’re helping lots of our clients with at Zone, because whether it’s creating agility for buying groceries with M&S or refining rights management in the music industry for PRS, the maintenance of trust is never far away.

The right language and tone is also key. Using inappropriate idioms, making spelling mistakes or just plain pushing the wrong message can do just as much damage when it comes to creating that all-important air of reassurance.

Trust is conveyed via the things we say and do, the way we conduct ourselves and also the way we look, whether in person or virtually.

Brands have to do all this and more and they have to do it subtly, often from a position of weakness, because people would actually rather be doing something else. And digitally, that becomes even harder without that direct human interaction and ability to look people in the eye.