How can brands restore user trust?

Trust is one of the most contentious and debated words, alongside privacy and identity, when talking about data and the digital economy. The purpose of this thought piece is to present a concept which presents itself when the user has access to their own data.

An assumption, ahead of thinking about trust propositions, relates to data portability or mobility. The concept behind data portability as part of a regulatory frameworks such as GDPR and PSD2, relates to the user being given the right to ask for their data back from the company that has collected it.

As an idea, it can be seen as controversial because brands have traditionally seen controlling or owning data as a key strategic requirement to remain relevant, to offer personalisation and keep control of the customer. This concept argues (in alignment with this WEF report) that giving the data back to consumers actually creates a far bigger opportunity for growth, competition, market entry and openness, as well as enabling brands to achieve greater differentiation.

The creation of new growth and wealth requires the current data collector and controller to shift their mind-set from “control to win”, to putting the customer first and delivering what they want as the top priority.

The 3 Es of TRUST ?

There are two existing models of trust that are relevant to business – to keep it really simple let’s call them “experience” and “emotional.” Experience trust is simple to grasp – every time you do something, it works or functions (within reason) as you would expect. This works-as-expected feedback loop reinforces a message that whatever you are using can be trusted. Think about using your bank card, starting the car, getting on a plane, charging your phone, posting a picture on Facebook, using a vape pipe, drinking water, taking a taxi, texting, etc. Society depends on experience trust, as it makes life simple and convenient. As the old advert goes, “it does what is says on the tin”. Virtually every band and every company has close to 100 per cent experience trust, as without it there is no first or repeat customers. Furthermore, we also love rules, regulations and standards which make the services repeatable anywhere at any time from any provider, so essentially experience trust makes usage and choice easy.

Emotional trust is the subtle bit. “Do I believe that the company I am about to use has my best interests at heart?” Your bank can make the payment (experience trust – it will happen as promised) but do you trust that it is giving you the best products, service or advice? Whilst there are always a few exceptions; the reality is that pharma, government, the church, charities, banks, social media, medical, insurance, consumer electronics, retail, gaming, media and auto have eroded our natural goodwill emotional trust levels substantially from a very high start. As consumers we feel that ‘brands don’t have our best interests at heart.’ Yes, you can use any service and trust it will do what is required (the joy of regulation and standards) but we have generally lost faith in companies having a defined purpose, ethics, morals and integrity.

To hide this reality, many of the world’s biggest brands spend vast sums in marketing and branding to keep focus on ‘it works’ (experience) as the reason to trust them. Whilst there is no other choice, we have no option but to fall back to experience trust as our best mechanism for selection, leaving emotional trust out of the decision-making cycle.

This could mean that the reason we don’t implicitly (emotionally) trust digital brands at one level is because we know that, traditionally, our data is being used / abused as the mechanism to make money / create value / generate wealth for the business/ investors/ shareholders in exchange for the service, rather than put to work for us. Therefore we can translate this into the motive behind every piece of communication being their gain at the expense of our loss on some level, however subtle. Consumers often feel today that their data is trapped by the process of trade or forced within the complex terms of use embodied in a connected device.

Something disruptive and novel is happening, which opens up a whole new world of trust that was either lost and forgotten or never existed – which is up for debate! For want of a better way to describe this new trust component, I will label it Enablement trust – the third E.

Before we get into what it means, we need to remind ourselves of the context of data portability or mobility, where the user / consumer can ask for their data back. The wider concept (which is not new) is that the user is the best person to have / store / keep / retain their own data. Up until now, this hasn’t found much traction with industry at large, which has found it a very hard concept to grasp and evaluate. But, increasingly. companies are emerging who make this ideal simple. In the same way we don’t completely understand how email works, but we’re still happy to use it, we don’t need to understand every detail of how giving users control and consent of their data works as long as the solution is demonstrably secure, private, trustable and simple.

Where is the link between data portability and enablement trust?

When companies own and control your data, they offer you products based on a limited data set that has a good business case for them, but may well not be in your best interests or meet your needs at that moment. In the process, they lose emotional trust.

As our lives and activities have become increasingly digital, brands are collecting and keeping more data on and about you in the hope of reaching you with additional services or products that you will want to purchase. Owning your data gives them the power in the relationship, alongside a hope that functional trust and marketing is sufficient to keep you “loyal.”

But when all your data is back under your own care and control, you the user can now decide who looks at your data and who can provide you with products and services. You as a user are in control not just of the data but of the channel. There is a shift in the power balance.

Anthony Thomson argues in his book No Small Change that brands have largely paid lip service for the past 30+ years to customer first, customer centric and related thinking. When data is back with the user, that actually becomes a reality and the customer is now first. Companies will now have to ask the customer to look at their data, which changes the relationship.

Enablement trust then becomes very interesting as a concept.

If companies foul up under the current model where they are in control, the user has very few real alternatives – in the new model, the user can turn off your access to their data. Therefore, the company which works out that putting the user first is the way to creating really amazing customer experiences is the one the user is more likely to keep using, and allow access to evermore new and rich data. This is enabling companies to re-establish emotional trust by showing empathy and understanding to the user that they are putting their best interests at heart: because they have to.

This concept of enablement trust does not wipe out or destroy the existing model or brands, but it allows those brands who understand the benefits to move into a new position. And there will be lucrative first-mover advantage here.

The idea of giving data back has two broad effects on corporate thinking. The first is the immediate response of defence and defend. This is where brands double-down on their current thinking; lock it down, never, this gives up on our position, we have invested to create this data, the value is in control, we know better than the user. This position will survive and these companies can still flourish.

The second, subtle and more forward-thinking argument is that we have a chance to change the game: we can be the first mover, we can win by doing what we have said we would do forever – put the customer first and do that every day in everything we do. Through that, these companies have the ability to be there truly serving their customers.

How do brands turn this around?

Trust, transparency and taking the customer on the journey by story-telling are the key ways that spring to mind. There will be others and the introduction of more personalised engagement helps to show that a brand really cares about me, and what I like (and puts my best interests first). Is this only about consumerism and personalisation or a greater story where as a brand companies have to demonstrate they care more and that they have a responsibility to be more active in their corporate social responsibility? The difference data makes is that we can now see who does what they promise and who does not. Given we probably don’t trust brands to do this by themselves and the regulators will be too slow, we need to start by taking charge of our own data.

Where does digi.me fit?

Digi.me exists to enable users to easily, quickly and securely get their data back, safe in the knowledge that the app manages all the steps for them. The beauty of the digi.me solution is that the user is not being asked to take their data from one big untrustable data store to another, it comes to them and only them. Digi.me does not see, touch or hold any user data, ever. It empowers the user by putting them back in control, and then allows them to decide who has access, providing best in the world consent management controls to help them make that happen.

Take away

Experience trust is real and works, while emotional trust has been eroded. However, by embracing data portability thinking there is a path back to a better full trust relationship with customers.

This thinking comes from reading Anthony Thomson’s excellent book called “No Small Change.”  He proposed the idea of functional (experience) and emotional trust with much more description. I have expended it to offer the idea of enablement.

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