Three ways to build customer trust in an increasingly out of control world
“I think technology is starting to overtake us. It is beyond our ability to even keep up with it. It’s very worrying for those of us who are interested in democracy. And I think it’s a consequence of that that we are transforming technology into our culture, our primary religion, and turning to it as what we all blindly trust in. The consequences of that fact manifest in our ability to trust each other and in our inability of our old institutions to do so work as we hoped. ”
The above is an excerpt from my interview with political journalist Murtaza Hussein at The Intercept in 2018 when I wrote Unfiltered Marketing: 5 Rules to Regain Trust, Credibility and Customers in a Digitally Distracted World. Our conversation focused on the collapse of trust and the rise of technology as the world’s most profound cultural driver.
It all felt very much over the horizon at the time, but it was only two years before The Great Tilt of 2020.
Fast forward to the immediate present and Hussein’s warning may feel too late. We just have a year behind us in which we are dealing in rapid succession with COVID lockdowns, nationwide unrest, the de-platforming of not only the President of the United States, but also Twitter competitor Parler and another US election have dealt all in memory.
Brands have stumbled into this world believing they were the standard bearers of the culture, but under the perceived stress of having to “make a statement” which outrage deserves the most attention at the moment.
But brands also have their own concerns. 2021 is an amazingly complex time to maintain a brand.
Business is the most trustworthy institution in our culture today, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. That brand increase is interesting, but needs to be mitigated by realizing that only 54% of people in the US say they “trust” the business as an institution. Competitors – the media, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) – do worse.
As we attempt the seemingly impossible task of regaining confidence in a world where every sign of it is out of control, brands need to focus now.
How can you increase customer confidence in 2021?
Based on our interviews and the underlying research in the Crossroads Study Culture and Technology, my advice has identified three pillars brands can rely on when it comes to besting a culture of trust against a backdrop of low trust and increasing power building technology giants.
1. Put control back in the hands of your customers
We don’t trust the institutions around us – and for good reason. We have caught “technopolies” using our data or collecting information without our knowledge or consent too often to trust. As recent events show, things are likely to get worse.
How do we deal with it as administrators of our business?
Find ways to put our customers in control that we would traditionally keep to ourselves. From information on demand to self-service to rehab a relationship that can easily turn into a purely technology relationship, the ways we put control back in control to our clients provide not just the deal, but the stress relief that is a stressful experience can be.
2. Shift your perspective from hero to “raw”
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of our customers for a moment: We’re tired of being lied to. We don’t trust post production. We want the truth … And the easiest way to come across as truthful is to remove the script, production value, and gimmick.
How do we move towards “raw”?
Lose the script and speak from the heart. Involve your customers in the development of your plans so that together they develop what many would pass on to them as complete.
Teaching instead of lecturing; Act not as a hero, but as a trusted advisor and explain to your audience what they are seeing. Provide context instead of demanding compliance.
3. Align with your customers’ values rather than forcing them to align with your values
We may find ourselves in an environment where overall confidence is low, but there is evidence that we are ready to follow the lead of bold brands that are undoubtedly credible on the matter. Patagonia can easily count on its environmental credentials, but Dick’s Sporting Goods’ attempt to weigh the nuances of the second change cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
So what should we do?
Be ready to make big efforts to connect your brand to movements larger than your product category – but make sure that the origins of your advocacy are deeply ingrained in your brand’s DNA.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to “make a statement” on every controversial subject; Your customer base doesn’t think you need this. Stay true to your brand’s real, observable, and possessable values.
And don’t reject the idea of capitalizing on your customers’ values: you don’t always have to convince them to change their mindset. We are all tired of speaking, especially when confidence is low.
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The holistic system of “seeking control in a world out of control” and being “raw” and having “heroic credibility” gives us as business leaders a blueprint with which to build trust and credibility in a jaded, distracted world .
We are going down an insecure, possibly treacherous path. The only way forward is to make sure our audience is there every step of the way.
More resources to build customer trust in 2021
Do you trust customers? Six tips for gaining brand trust in 2021
How to win the trust and loyalty of your customers with unfiltered marketing: Stephen Denny on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]
Earn your customers’ trust: How to use personalization and authenticity to reach target audiences