Building Long-Lasting Customer Trust in the Digital Age


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In the digital world, customer trust has become the ultimate currency. So much of the business we engage in today is done digitally without any face-to-face interactions, so building trust among customers is the only way to sustain long-term success. However, trust is at an all-time low, and looking at the various data breaches and hacks over the last couple of years (Facebook and Marriott most notably), it’s easy to understand why.

As we shift to digital channels for making purchases and interacting with customers, it’s crucial to focus on building customer trust in a different way – reshaping it into something that fits the digital landscape. Companies need to be better listeners and information sharers, while also providing individualized support and tapping into the right customer data to use it in a way that doesn’t cross boundaries.

With this in mind, here are three ways to build better, long-lasting customer trust in the digital age:

1. Be 100% transparent and have consistent transparency across your organization
One of the most important best practices for being transparent with customers is price transparency. This supports a connected customer experience that adds long-term value through proper personalization and the ability to explore different pricing options before deciding on a purchase. Customers can find the right solutions or packages they need to address key challenges, and they know exactly what they are purchasing before the transaction is even completed.

Trials are an important part of this as well. Think about it – when you’re buying a car, you wouldn’t make a purchase without a test drive first, would you? In fact, many consumer products are either on a show floor or set out in a way that lets customers view and try out before they buy. The same principle should apply to B2B products, like software. When implementing digital purchasing options into your customer journey, the option to try a product, via a trial period, for example, should always be included. This way the customer can test a product and ensure it meets the business need they are seeking to address.

2. Be helpful at every stage of the customer journey
Always be at the ready to supply support for digital sales – even before a purchase is made. Customer service takes on many shapes and sizes across businesses and industries. Sometimes it is right out in the open and other times it is simply in the background providing constant support without the customer even knowing it’s there.

A lot of talk focuses on support and experience in the consumer space – with B2C companies looking to infuse the same customer support system they have in-person or on the phone into their digital platforms as well. When it comes to digital sales and e-commerce in the B2B space, it shouldn’t be any different. If anything, we should hold ourselves to even higher standards when supplying customer support from a digital perspective because these customers are used to the high touch services of a vendor’s field sales team.

Even though they want quicker and more seamless online options, they still want access to the same amount of support they’d get if they were working with someone directly. They still expect guidance and support along the process, before making their purchases. When you really analyze it, there is a built-in trust that takes shape when this assistance if offered and at the ready for customers who have yet to pay. It’s an opportunity to show commitment before they even become a paying customer.

3. Respect privacy and DON’T be creepy when personalizing experiences
Alex Atzberger, President of SAP Customer Experience, said it best during our SAPPHIRE Now 2018 conference: “Customers are done with creepy – don’t be creepy … without consent, don’t personalize.”

Personalization has been the key buzzword for 2019 and while it plays a major role in how you engage your customers – building their experiences and connecting with them along their journey – it can also be a slippery slope when not handled with care. New data and GDPR rules provide an extra and important layer of security for customers. It’s on us as businesses to create personalized experiences based on what the customer allows us to have access to, without crossing the line.

The challenge here is that data provides us with more insights than we’ve ever had access to before, especially regarding customer preferences and behavior. The natural inclination is to use the data to make the experience better for each customer at the most individualized level possible. Respecting customer privacy, however, also goes a long way in ensuring you’re focused on the most useful insights, and it shows the customer you’re committed to respecting the relationship.

At the end of the day trust is gained, and kept, by aligning goals. Your customer’s goal is to solve a problem, improve a process, transform their business, etc. and your top goal should always be to support their path to do this. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – it’s earned through multiple changes, interactions, offerings and more – but the best practices outlined here can be really good jumping off points for aligning these goals and building trust along the way.

Bertram Schulte
I serve as the Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at SAP, running the digital business and helping provide customers one seamless, digital experience. Since May 2017, I have been overseeing digital customer strategy for SAP across sales, customer success, support and marketing. From July 2014 until April 2017, I served as SAP’s senior vice president and chief of staff, for the Products & Innovation Executive Board Office. In this role, I was part of the Global Leadership Team and helped define the technology, product and investment strategy for SAP, supporting bid deals and customer escalations.


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