TLDR: Do Your Customers Trust You? (What is trust, how do you measure it, and why is it so important?)
Is your company doing better or worse in terms of maintaining and building customer Trust right now? Sadly most companies can’t even answer that question. Yet Customer Trust is a far more important metric than Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter Score or any of the other measures CX/CS
Professionals commonly track. In fact, our company has been offering a free service to monitor customer Trust since early April.
Trust is far more important than Satisfaction for several reasons which I’ll get into below. But before that, lets look at exactly what trust is, and how it can be measured accurately and consistently. Later this week I will be sharing ‘5 Tips on how your Customer Experience department can build customer trust right now’. However, before we start to work on improving Trust, I think it is important to understand just what it is, and why it is so important.
‘Trust’ in customer interactions – What is “Trust”
Emotions are an important area of study among psychologists. While there is disagreement about the significance and number of emotions most psychologists seem to agree on the 8 major emotions eloquently illustrated in Plutchik’s wheel of emotion.
The wheel attempts to juxtapose emotions so that they appear opposite each other in the wheel. As you can see, ‘Trust’ appears opposite ‘Disgust’ in the wheel. However, technically ‘Trust’ is different than most other emotions, as it consists in large parts of cognition related to experiences. For the purposes of this post though I will refer to customer ‘Trust’ as a general topic that can be measured in at least two ways, either as present or not present, as well as a more nuanced and valanced measure which can range somewhere between complete ‘Trust’ to complete ‘Distrust’ for a business/service.
We can rather accurately measure increases or decreases of trust among customers over time, or measure differences in trust between customer segments, specific product mentions, or between brands as a whole, as well as in terms of how various sales or customer service agents may be adding or detracting to the level of trust the customers they interact with have for your business.
How we think about Trust (in people, products and Brands)
Trust is made up of several parts.
Do you believe XYZ Corp can be trusted? Can Joe Smith be trusted? Either consciously or unconsciously we are evaluating whether individuals and organizations are trustworthy every day. Are they honest, are they fair, are they acting with our interests in mind, are they benevolent? Competence also plays a role, i.e. confidence is a type of trust. Confidence in the product/service that it will be reliable and work as expected.
Trust can be easily influenced by memory, both by prior experiences as well as what you have heard from others or on the news. Trust does not change as quickly as other emotions. Someone can go from satisfied to dissatisfied in an instant. Of course, there can be an immediate reaction with trust, but because trust involves cognition, we will evaluate it, and so even if something bad happens to you as a customer in a situation, your trust can still be recovered.
As trust is more complex than other emotions, it is harder to measure at one point in time at the individual level. It is something that tends to be in flux, either helped or eroded over time. It will be slightly influenced on the emotional side, but there will be a lot of thought processes involved trying to find reasons why a product is trustworthy or not.
At the individual level, trust is even tied to personality types, as it develops as thoughts and feelings that people have. For instance, during early stages of child development (birth to 3 years), if care is reliably available when needed, then these humans are more likely to trust others and have stable relationships. Without going into detail, we can extrapolate to the fact that some people are more trusting than others… And while there are more detailed segments of the population in psychology (technically 4 levels), we can generalize to just two segments, the larger group consisting of most people (60-70%) who are more secure in terms of trust, and the rest who are more distrustful naturally. Whether we tend to be naturally more or less trustful, trust is a critical part in any business relationship.
The good news is in business we can be less worried about the individual personality types and can more easily and quickly focus on trust in ways that can improve communication across our customer touchpoints. While trust can be measured in survey Likert scale ratings, measuring trust in verbal or written communication is in many ways more practical, and has a long history in the field of psychology.
At OdinAnswers we have been measuring ‘Trust’ in customer comments coming from various touch points for quite some time. Importantly, we’re not talking about just explicit mentions of trust such as “I trust your company completely”. While explicit mentions of trust like these are absolutely included in our models of Trust, the far larger component is made up of other more nuanced and tacit exclamations that serve as signals identifying Trust. Thus our validated ontology considers use of topics ranging from ‘Accuracy’ to ‘Virtuousness’, their synonyms and inflections, as well as more recent terminology like ‘alt right/left’ and ‘fake news’, as well as their contextual use in terms of whether or not they are negated. In the end, used correctly, this provides a much more flexible and powerful measure of trust than any Likert scale ratings, as it allows us to continuously scan customer communication, reading ‘between the lines’ for increases or decreases, and even in context to specific business issues.
So What? Earning and Keeping Customer Trust – The Customer Experience
Whether they know it or not, most companies are relatively good at ‘Trust’. Perhaps implicitly we all know how important it is as a first step in convincing a customer to even consider doing business with us. Yet it is important enough to consider explicitly, and companies that do so are much better for it.
If we think about it, it is a bit surprising how good some companies are in their solutions that either fix customer problems or avoid them proactively. Take stores that due to COVID-19 have been allowing returns for 6 months rather than 30 days. Instead of penalizing people during this critical time, they are helping them. Maybe customers do not want to go to post office for the next several weeks. When you see a company helping you your belief that they are fair and competent is increased. Trust increases.
Take travel and hospitality as another example, some airlines are allowing people to cancel and change flights without fees, even though this was not mandated. Instead it is something that was started for the customers benefit so instead of increasing stress it decreases it. Decreasing friction, increasing trust, leads to purchases.
Simply sharing information with your customers, explaining to them that you understand their needs, that you are doing something new, changing policies to help customers, if executed correctly, and monitored using natural language processing (text analytics) you should easily be able to link to and see how these changes in policy lead to positive changes in trust.
Take an even more common example of grocery stores during the past several weeks. Posting government safety notices, encouraging masks, tape measurement to maintain 6 foot distancing, allowing x number of customers in at a time. In aggregate these changes tell customers that the store is trying to be responsible, is capable, and the net is a positive trust builder on both a conscious and subconscious level. If measured, changes like these will be reflected in your customers minds and feedback comments and can be measured directly through text analytics, and ultimately in revenue as well as the even more valuable long term loyalty.
Just the fact that a business is open and continues to serve customers in whatever way they are able to during a crisis serves to increase trust. For those of us managing via Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Score, you can expect trust to be highly correlated with satisfaction and NPS.
In terms of customer service/support you will find that people are more forgiving as a sign of gratitude. Appreciation is a component in our trust ontology. Customers think “you are not abandoning us in this difficult time”. Even though rationally each business wants to stay open for its own egotistic reasons, it is still perceived very positively due to the contrast with other businesses which are closed. Thus, those businesses that do stay open are appreciated for it.
People are more likely to do good things and care about people (and businesses) than they normally would during crisis times like these (see my post which referenced September 11). While we can initially generate gratitude and Trust by simply remaining open in times like these, there is so much more we can do.
Importance of Trust – More important than Customer Satisfaction!
Trust is closely related to long term relationships and commitment. So, it is a critical part of long-term loyalty and repurchase. Satisfaction, is far more volatile. You may be disappointed in terms of satisfaction and continue a relationship (business). This is why Trust is so much more important than satisfaction (though the two are of course related), and should therefore be measured, tracked and understood. A customer can always be made happy again, but without Trust, the relationship ends. You will not get another chance.
Thanks for taking the time to follow me on just one of the many important customer dimensions that can be tracked and measured in customer communications. As mentioned, Trust really is more important than Customer Satisfaction or Net Promoter Score as it is not something ephemeral. It is lasting, and something that can be built up over time.
Check back Thursday for my next post ‘5 Tips on how to build Trust’ with your customers during this current time of crisis.
In the meantime I welcome your comments or questions below. If you would like more information on how OdinAnswers can help you understand Trust and other key issues in your customer communication and feedback feel free to contact us here.
Chief Research Officer
[NOTE: This post originated from a conversation I had with Lenny Murphy of The Greenbook who was interested in the free for COVID Customer Health Monitor. He pointed out how important one of our tracking themes ‘Trust’ is for many brands he has been speaking to. While my training is not in psychology, OdinAnswer’s ontology for trust and other key emotions in text data was implemented and continues to be honed by PhD’s in Psychology, and I consulted with one of our lead data scientists and PhD in Psychology, Dr Gosia Kolling before writing this post.]