Tips on building trust in your online channels

How much do you think about trust? In your life, and particularly in your dealings with your customers, do you know what builds trust, and what breaks it?

Trust is an underlying motivator in all our decision-making. Whether you're asking somebody to buy something, sign up for something, or even convincing them to take something for free, if they don't trust you, then you'll have an extremely hard job persuading them.

And it's no different online. In this article, I'll be talking about how to build trust in online channels where you obviously don't have the advantage of direct, face-to-face relationships with your customers -- and where you and they both know that your competitors are always only two clicks away.

So how do you ensure your digital audiences trust you enough to do business with you?

Tip 1: Understand your audience

There are a number of online trust techniques, but selecting the right ones (and using them in the right way) means really understanding your customers, your market and your brand.

What do your potential customers worry about? Will they already trust your brand -- or have they never heard of you? Is your market generally trusted? Where have they been let down before, by you or your competitors? What other markets, brands and people do they trust?

The key to gaining trust is to understand what barriers your audience will have to taking action, and then applying the correct techniques to overcome them.

Tip 2: Sweat the small stuff (because first impressions really count)

Einstein said "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters". While he might not have been talking about signing up to Netflix, he was still onto something.

Sweat the details -- if you don't pay attention to the small things, how well will you do with the big issues that your customers really care about? This might mean catching the obvious stuff (like typos in headlines), or it could be concerning yourself with the more subconscious level of user interaction. My colleague Lisa recently wrote a great blog on user decision making where she talks about 'gut processing' and 'head processing', and trust absolutely starts in the gut.

A professional, good looking and appropriate design is critical. Test your creative with your audience. Make sure your content, including all microcopy like headings and button labels, is well written and on-brand, and free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Use high quality imagery (and, if you can help it, don't use stock). And, finally, if you don't have content and style guidelines, create them -- and keep to them.

Albert -Einstein -genius

Tip 3: Remember that people trust people

My job title is 'Senior User Experience Consultant', and I've been in this business for 15 years. By making you aware of this, I'm ensuring that you're more likely to trust what I have to say about UX than if I was, say, a barista. But if, on the other hand, you were looking for advice on how to make the perfect macchiato, I would definitely not be the person to trust.

So make sure that the right voices are talking to your audience. There are, broadly, three people who can speak to them online:

  1. You/your brand voice
  2. Another person they know and/or trust
  3. Someone a bit like them

If you are speaking directly to your customers, it's easier if you are already well known. I trust Apple when they say they make great phones; I don't trust an unknown East Asian brand when they say the same thing.

But if a technology expert, or a well-known celebrity says the phone is good (maybe Stephen Fry -- he knows his tech) then I might give it a go. Just as in traditional advertising, the right celebrity endorsements, used subtly and appropriately, work online (although remember that if the celebrity does something to lose trust, then your endorsement may become worthless -- think Tiger Woods).

Even better, if someone I know, or someone who looks and sounds a bit like me and my friends, says it's a great phone (through testimonials, reviews, social postings etc.) then I will trust them. This is social proof, and it's a hugely flexible and powerful technique for both trust and persuasion.

Social proof can also apply to the photography you use -- consider using photos of people who are a bit like your target market. Using personalisation techniques, you can start targeting specific imagery to specific audience segments (although don't get creepy about it -- creepy isn't trustworthy).

Tip 4: Prove that you can be trusted

Show your successes -- don't be afraid to use certifications, memberships, awards. Show that you are open and approachable -- give a real contact phone number. Have FAQs (but ensure they really are 'frequently asked', and that you are giving useful answers).

Visual clues like credit card logos and padlock icon next to checkout CTAs may seem obvious and overused, but they work brilliantly in peoples' subconscious.

Credit Card Logos

Tip 5: Don't lie

If you really don't want to bother with this boring trust stuff, there is of course another way: make your offer appear really bloody good, to create a perception of value that outweighs any worries about trust -- "an offer too good to refuse".

But, of course, this is a risky strategy. Because in order to create an offer that seems valuable but is also profitable for you, you probably have to lie. And once you're caught lying, you'll never rebuild trust. You might gain a conversion, but you'll never achieve retention, and you'll never build a decent reputation.

It's the Arthur Daley strategy, and nobody wants to do business like Arthur Daley, right?

Really going back to basics, and considering how you are building -- and losing -- trust in your digital spaces means you won't have to resort to telling porkies.

And finally...

If all this sounds obvious then... Well, it should do. But that doesn't diminish the importance of really reviewing your online customer journeys, objectively. Do the same with your competitors. What trust tricks have you missed?

One last point -- remember to be subtle. There's nothing less likely to engender trust in a customer than shouting "YOU CAN TRUST ME!" at them. Don't overdo the techniques and, of course, AB test to find the solution that work best for you.


The human mind and usability part 4: Visual perception