By Maria Pardee, Chief Commercial Officer, TELUS International
Considering the extraordinary events of the past two years — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the reckoning on racial discrimiation and injustice — it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say brand trust has never been more important to consumers as we look to rebuild how we live and relate to one another.
It’s also become abundantly clear that purchasing decisions have become more political with consumers using their agency to reward brands they trust to do good in the world — and avoid those they don’t. In fact, in the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, 40% of respondents said they’ve stopped using a brand they love because they lost trust in the company’s leaders.
For its report, Edelman polled 14,000 consumers in 14 countries, and discovered some resounding truths. The majority of consumers (63%) are recognizing their ability to influence brands to change for the better, and they want to leverage this power to improve society (78%). “The deeper dependence on brands forged in the pandemic has made trust an essential purchase consideration,” the firm writes.
So, now the question is: how can brands build trust?
In addition to having a set of values guiding your company’s and team’s decisions and actions, and clearly communicating them to consumers, your brand’s customer experience (CX) is one of your most critical public-facing assets. Customer experiences that are accessible to all, secure and personalized are a key component in building trusting brand-consumer relationships.
Make the customer experience inclusive and accessible
Brands can no longer wholly depend on a toll-free support line in one or even two languages to deliver customer service, especially if they are seeking to build trust. Offering a multitude of languages and communication channel options shows you’re thinking about the needs of a broader, more diverse consumer base rather than making assumptions about who they are and how they prefer to (or are able to) communicate with you.
Consider the following:
- Offer customer service in different languages during live calls, chats or in emails with agents. Real-time translation tools, such as bots, work in the background, creating a smooth experience for both the agent and the customer. Brands can also consider localization — taking the intent of a word and its meaning in the context of an overall message and then translating it to appropriately capture the essence of the original content. Everything from cultural norms, regional sayings, and even religious traditions are taken into consideration when localizing content.
- Ensure your CX services are accessible in all ways. Usability and accessibility go together, and brands should integrate accessible design thinking throughout the entire customer journey. This spans from 24/7 availability to a variety of payment options to supporting persons with disabilities. Make sure that you have the technologies and people in place to support the visually and hearing impaired. This could include voice for visually-impaired customers, and email and chat for hearing-impaired customers, including video to sign with customer service agents who have these skill sets.
- Leverage cloud technologies to allow customers the opportunity to connect with you in a way that is convenient and easy for them. This technology helps customers easily switch between support channels. They can start their day with a query on their smartphone, then pick up the transaction on their laptop, and then complete the purchase in-store at the end of their day.
By being present at decision-making moments across the buyer journey, you have an opportunity to be influential in the “messy middle” between trigger and purchase. Being able to recognize and connect with consumers across various touchpoints, and offer them the type of service they need or prefer helps, and this is where cloud-enabled, accessible and inclusive solutions can make the most impact.
Make it safe to connect
A data breach is a surefire way of damaging overall brand trust with customers. Brands have a major responsibility to ensure the proper governance and internal security measures are firmly in place to protect sensitive customer data. Transparency is also critical as being upfront about what data you collect and why you collect it, and effectively communicating that information, is intrinsic to building trust in the digital age. So is staying on top of global standards regarding the technologies you use, and might use in the future.
Keep in mind that different demographics have varying concerns and expectations when it comes to giving brands access to their personal information. Offering easy opt-in and opt-out options alongside voluntary two-factor authentication can be one way of letting people customize their own privacy settings.
Unfortunately, despite all security measures, practically every company will have a data breach at some point, meaning most consumers have likely experienced one as well. They expect the brands to whom they’ve entrusted their business to be thoroughly prepared to respond quickly and effectively to protect their data – from speedy notification to a quality response by way of a sound infrastructure, effective processes and competent execution. Your actions and investments in preventing the avoidable and preparing for the unavoidable will greatly impact your customers’ trust level and confidence in your brand.
Minimize the bias in your AI algorithms
AI and machine learning offers countless benefits to today’s brands, especially when it comes to their CX delivery. From building algorithms that help brands filter and customize content for their customers to collecting and analyzing data about consumer behavior (with their consent, of course!), brands are poised to offer more personalized suggestions, relevant content and targeted offers that enhance the overall customer experience and build brand loyalty.
When employing AI, brands must consider the consequences of a machine learning algorithm making false or inappropriate assumptions about its customers. Although bias cannot be completely removed, it is a brand’s responsibility to mitigate its impact as much as possible.
Having a large, diverse crowd-sourced community of data annotators and linguists is one way to help ensure your machine learning models are being created with equally diverse training datasets. This type of diversity should extend across all personnel working on AI initiatives and more broadly throughout your organization. When your employee base reflects your customer base, your brand will reduce racial and cultural biases, which in turn helps your customers feel seen for who they are and establishes greater trust with your brand.
Safeguard online experiences with content moderation
With the rise of user-generated content (UGC), it’s important for brands to plan in advance how they will prevent and moderate false or inappropriate content that can be damaging to their company. In a recent survey by TELUS International, more than 40% of Americans said they will disengage from a brand’s community after as little as one exposure to toxic or fake UGC, while 45% said they will lose all trust in a brand. As more and more brands are turning to UGC to build consumer trust, which is seen as 2.4x more authentic than brand-posted content by consumers, it’s vital to get a proactive handle on combating inappropriate content.
However, when a brand engages with a community forum, it assumes responsibility for what participants say about that content and online comments can quickly get out of hand without proper content moderation services. While parsing through commentary can be partly handled with automation, only humans can read nuance in the way that is often required. As such, brands may choose to work with a partner experienced in content moderation services. This ensures they have a consistent line of defense in place and brand ambassadors who have the required experience to respond to content that is being created, while also removing inappropriate content so that you can focus on your core business operations.
It’s not just what you do, but how you do it
Trust has long been an influential factor in consumers’ decision-making process, but in the same Edelman report, 68% of respondents answered that it’s more important today than it was in the past. In fact, that’s especially true among 18–34 year olds, who characteristically value flexibility, activism and technology, and answered that brand trust is 75% more important today. The difference today is that it is simultaneously more challenging and more important for brands to be perceived as trustworthy.
Capturing consumer trust goes far beyond having dependable products and providing value for money. This is especially true in the age of ‘liquid expectations’, where consumers’ no longer compare like for like when judging the experiences they have with brands. Instead, they compare the customer experience they had at a restaurant to an experience with their bank to experiences with eCommerce retailers. Brands can no longer solely compare themselves to competitors within their respective industries, but must look at CX benchmarks in the overall marketplace.
The good news is, there are numerous opportunities for brands to effectively translate their ethics and values into actions, and embed them within their customer journey. Your brand trust relies not only on what you say and do, but how you say it and how you prioritize their needs. Establishing brand trust with your customers isn’t easy and it won’t happen overnight; however, if you take steps to build and maintain it, consumers will choose you above your competitors and stay with you for the long haul.