Trust Me! I’m A Brand

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The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reports a downturn. So say 33,000 people from 28 countries. It makes dramatic reading. Even the executive summary is named ‘An Implosion of Trust’.

Two-thirds of the surveyed countries are now “distrusters” i.e. under 50% trust in the mainstream institutions of business, government, media and NGOs to do what is right.

Richard Edelman, the report’s executive author, explains this profound crisis in trust has its origins in the Great Recession of 2008.

“The aftershocks from the stunning meltdown of the global economy are still being felt today, with consequences yet unknown. Like the second and third waves of a tsunami, ongoing globalization and technological change are now further weakening people’s trust in global institutions, which they believe have failed to protect them from the negative effects of these forces….

…We have moved beyond the point of trust being simply a key factor in product purchase or selection of employment opportunity; it is now the deciding factor in whether a society can function.”

Pretty strong stuff and evidence which points straight to the heart of what I want to explore – the imperative of setting the right balance between automation and human engagement.

 

Why Does It Matter?

Get it right and customers are happy that they can complete jobs with you anytime, anyplace with access to human assistance only a click away. Get it wrong and your brand becomes a hollowed out experience offering little reason to remain loyal.

Until recently, we lived and worked in a world weighted towards the physical. It was the store we visited not the app. It was a person we made a decision with, not an algorithm that made it for us. It was a checkout queue and paper receipt instead of a walk in and out value proposition with automated payment triggered behind the scenes.

One of the reasons  contact centres have under-performed in terms of self service is that tasks within customer journeys  have remained manual, complex, at times emotional and certainly not in a fit state to hand over in the form of self service to customers. ‘Sorry the system is slow today’ is something we are all used to.

But digital transformation in all its many guises continues to make progress. Nowadays workflow sits in the cloud. What we know about you can be pooled into data lakes and fished for insight using deep learning neural nets.  This is a world tilted towards the digital.

For the criminally minded, why rob a bank, when you can hire ransomware on the dark net at $40 an hour? This is a much easier way to get people to hand over money. There is even a 24×7 help desk on standby!

When is a branded message real or fake? Fraudsters need just three pieces of personal information to steal your identity, most of which can be found on your Facebook profile according to Action Fraud.

UK banks’ social customer service feeds show a regular concern from customers about whether they can trust an email, SMS or social ad. They have good reason to be concerned. ID theft continues to grow. Tesco and Wonga are just the latest UK examples so far this year. Organisations continue to leak personal data. That said, it’s a two way street as far as best practice is concerned. 15% of UK users apparently still use 1-2-3-4 as their PIN!

Fake news has become big news. It was even discussed at a recent Facebook board meeting in recognition of posing an existential threat to the brand’s credibility. Twitter bots are already actively working to influence voting decisions in the French election. The degree to which US politics was covertly influenced in the last election remains a matter of ongoing investigation.

The use of ‘fake news’ as an accusation has also grown. Don’t like someone else’s point of view? It’s easier to mistrust its veracity than debate its value. Such is the damage this can cause to a society’s ability to listen, learn and adapt that a coalition of both right and left wing newspapers are experimenting with adding ‘opposite’ political commentary to their newsfeeds. The idea is to expand readers’ outlook and stop the rot of entrenched tribalism and sole trust in ‘people like us’.

Add all this together and we live in a world where danger comes as much from digital sources as physical sources. While the need to be careful and alert to personal threats is nothing new for humans beings, the source of those threats are certainly less familiar to us at this stage in the evolution of the digital economy.

To this extent, I’d suggest the future viability of the digital economy rests up our collective ability to make online life a much safer, trusted proposition than it is today.

Human Needs Remain Constant

There is a long tail of experience that make up our sense of being digitally safe or threatened. At the one end is direct financial loss as a result of ID theft. At the other are low level yet persistent concerns around how organisations gain access to and use our personal data.

For instance, how many of us appreciate the way in which data about us is collected and used? This has been recognised in the forthcoming GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which updates data protection principles and practice.

Increasingly, organisations use data that has not been consciously provided by us. It may be:

  • Observed, by tracking us online or by smart devices
  • Derived from combining other data sets
  • Inferred by using algorithms to analyse a variety of data, such as social media, location data and records of purchases in order to profile us in terms of our credit risk, state of health or suitability for a job

This is why the GDPR mandates consumers will be able to appeal automated profiling if they feel at the wrong end of an algorithmic decision. Organisations will have to provide access to a real person rather than automated functionality. Someone the consumer can talk with in order to challenge and understand the decision made about them in terms of being refused insurance, health treatment or whatever the profiling was used for.

While this might seem pedantic and unnecessarily expensive, it matters in terms of dignity and trust.  We know from decades of successful advertising that all decisions are infused and informed by emotion. In fact, studies have shown how difficult decisions become without that decisive emotional jolt.

Sales teams know that selling is always personal. People buy from people.  That’s why social recommendation plays such an important role in both B2C and B2B purchasing cycles these days.

While it might seem the unfolding world of self driving cars, smart cities and VR projected TVs is bound to evolve mindsets and self image, certain things about being human are rooted in much more ancient and slow shifting behaviours that have been learnt over millennia of survival.

At the very centre of this lies the acuity of who to trust.  Are they who they seem to be? Are their intentions clear? Do they act with integrity? Do they have my best interests at heart? These questions continue to matter.

As the world morphs into both digital and physical versions of life, it becomes even more important to provide credible answers to these questions. Organisations need to understand the importance of meeting these core expectations as the bedrock of sustainable relationships between themselves and consumers. In fact with all stakeholders they engage with.

Part of the solution is to understand when automation is a positive experience delivering frictionless, instant access and when the human touch is more important. Generally this will match situations that are emotional, complex or otherwise concentrate on strengthening relationship bonds. Or when a point of escalation is needed from incomplete self service events.

Apparently, anthropologists and social scientists are becoming popular recruits into the world of organisations who now recognise that humans are something greater than units of productivity or revenue. New insight is needed.

It seems getting the right balance between digital and physical has become a new benchmark in organisational competency.

So, can I trust your brand?

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