Brand trust is today’s ultimate competitive differentiator. In fact, according to Salesforce.com chief Marc Benioff, trust holds a higher value than ideas themselves when it comes to building a sustainable enterprise. As he puts it, “In technology over the last two decades, the most important thing has been the idea … No longer true. The current highest value is trust, and if trust is not your highest value, if the most important thing to you and your company is not trust, you need to look again.”
The problem is that brand trust is not always easy to come by. In fact, it’s getting harder. Edelman found that the general U.S. population’s trust in businesses plummeted a full 10% last year, from 58% to 48%. Given that trust can be a brand’s greatest asset these days, that represents a serious hit to the bottom line.
Not coincidentally, a 2018 report (download required) published by Altimeter found that the leading drivers of digital transformations are market pressures like growth opportunities and competition. Digital transformations represent complex, time-consuming and costly cross-enterprise initiatives, and unfortunately, a significant number of them (70%, according to McKinsey) don’t reach their stated goals. In my experience, executives commonly miss opportunities to develop communication strategies aimed at eliminating risks and coalescing diverse teams to appreciate what is ultimately at stake and reach their goals.
It’s time for business leaders to connect the dots between brand trust and digital transformation. By aligning transformations around the need to foster greater consumer trust, they can ensure the results will have a meaningful impact on their businesses for the long term. Here’s how.
Solving The Trust Equation
“Brand trust” can feel ethereal, but in fact, a great deal of structure has been built around the concept. Perhaps one of the most useful models of understanding trust that I’ve seen is The Trust Equation (paywall) developed by Charles H. Green and Andrea Howe. As equations go, it’s pretty straightforward:
Trustworthiness = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self-Orientation
Simply put, if you’re looking to increase the trustworthiness of your brand, you want to establish the highest possible levels of credibility (faith in what you say), reliability (faith in what you will do) and intimacy (faith in the security of your brand), and then divide that all by the lowest possible level of self-orientation (inward focus on the brand rather than the customer).
So what does it look like when an enterprise orients its digital transformation around this concept? Let’s take a look:
Credibility: People need to be able to trust what an enterprise says is true. To that end, an enterprise’s digital transformation needs to factor in not just the systems through which the company delivers information, but also the quality and context of the information. For example, customer service automation companies must not only be backed by quality artificial intelligence, but they must also have access to thorough, accurate educational resources that they can provide to customers in need. A telecom provider who uses a conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platform could provide video tutorials for troubleshooting technical issues based on the customer’s specific product use. Meanwhile, an insurance company might want their platform to provide alerts and disaster preparedness tips to policyholders in the wake of expected storms or other natural disasters.
Reliability: If credibility is focused on words, then reliability is all about actions. Customers need to know that your systems and support are always available when they need them. Period. For example, if a banking institution is going to offer novel ways to deposit checks or issue payments to vendors, it should ensure these systems do not suffer from frequent or protracted downtimes. If they do, customers may be more disappointed in the organization than if it never offered those services in the first place. One element that I’ve found critical to achieving success from digital transformations is the ability to deliver instant gratification when fostering business-to-consumer experiences. Customers expect this level of reliable timeliness in a world led by Venmo, Via, Grubhub and “always-on” brands. I believe deploying technology to achieve digital powerhouse status must be viewed beyond the lens of cost-saving and ultimately how it will earn trust by way of immediate responsiveness.
Intimacy: Given that intimacy is all about the security a person feels when they’re entrusting a company with information or a need, this element is multiplying in importance. Amid a sea of alarming data privacy headlines like Facebook’s and Marriot’s, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for customers to feel secure in their digital relationships with enterprises, particularly when customer service integrations are tied to social platforms that are continually confessing to new data breaches. Executives should consider if they would trust their own personal data with the security of their solutions. Customers must know that the venues through which they’re communicating and transacting with a brand are secure. This can be achieved by not only publicizing general security measures on websites and in customer communications but also by reminding customers of a system’s security before they begin engaging with an interface and giving them the opportunity to learn more.
Self-Orientation: Finally, unlike the previous three concepts, trustworthiness hinges on maintaining a low level of self-orientation. That means enterprises should strive to orient themselves around the consumers’ needs rather than their own. Such orientation can be readily conveyed through a digital transformation that focuses on the user experience and by learning from interactions with the users, then becoming better based on those learnings. For example, companies can consider publishing a public roadmap for their products to show how they’re continually working to deliver what customers say they want. According to Inc., a Label Insight study found that 94% of consumers studied were more likely to be loyal to a brand that commits to transparency. Executives need to ask if their digital transformations are clearly setting their company on this path.
Brand trust represents not only a core reason to undertake a digital transformation initiative but also a key metric by which organizations can guide their efforts and gauge their success. While Accenture found that a one-point increase in customer experience scores can translate into millions in annual revenue, brand trust should also be considered a prerequisite to earning deeper customer satisfaction. By applying the Trust Equation framework to transformation initiatives, executives can ensure the results of their efforts not only bring their organizations up to speed with customer expectations but also differentiate their brands and forge indestructible consumer bonds for the future.
Originally published in Forbes.