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6 ways to build trust with your customers

by Phil Heywood, Strategy Director, 30 April 2019

Read Time: 9 minutes

Think about the best relationships you have in your life, the ones you treasure the most and would do anything to keep. Can you identify why they’re so good and what makes them strong?

If you’re struggling to break down why you feel that way about someone (or something - if your dog isn’t one of your best relationships, then, well… ), ask yourself this: if you removed trust from that relationship, what impact would that have?

If you violated the trust of your friend/partner/spouse/parent/dog (in no particular order!), how would you expect that relationship to change?

The question of trust, and the consequence of losing it, is even more acute in business.

Because you will almost certainly have built up a degree of goodwill with your friends, family and pets, as well as the fact that they probably love you, you may be able to survive your indiscretion; but can the same ever be true of an entity like your company or charity?

Trust is a much hotter topic today than we ever might have considered it would be five or ten years ago. Despite the plethora of information sources available to us in 2019, it feels like more people than ever are doubting what our eyes, ears and scientific evidence are telling us.

A significant catalyst for this mistrust is social media, and there are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, people can pretty much say what they like on social media. Despite whatever checks and safeguards certain platforms have in place, it’s currently impossible to prevent the spread of false information and potentially offensive opinions. The obvious, off-topic topic here being the balance between censorship and social responsibility. As we tend to gravitate towards information we already agree on (aka confirmation bias), these echo chambers have started to resonate in troubling ways, leading to the amplification and spread of ‘alternative’ opinions (the Flat-Earther movement being a famous, and baffling, but least worrisome example).

Secondly, with pressure to monetise their products, social media platforms have looked for ways to collect and use our personal information to drive revenue from advertising.

I’m picking on social media here, even though it’s not the only horse in this race. Google and Amazon clearly thrive on knowing who you are and what you like just as much as Facebook, Twitter et al. “Where’s Apple?” I hear you ask. Well, they claim to be very committed to protecting user privacy and, so far, appear to be walking the walk. Their challenge is to remain true to their word.

For this reason, I’ll switch to referring to them all (apart from Apple) as data brokers – a handy catch-all term to describe entities that see data as a resource that can be sold, or otherwise exploited for some kind of gain.

This is significant because, chances are, your organisation is a data broker to some extent. Do you ask for an email address in exchange for a newsletter, which you’ll then use to send out other comms and generate leads? You’re a data broker. Do you track peoples’ behaviour and browsing habits, so that you can tailor and enhance future visits? Data broker. Any kind of customer intelligence you gather and store in your CRM is a type of data brokering, even if it’s purely for internal purposes.

So far, so… kind of, OK. Nobody loves ads or spam, and 41% of internet users in the UK use some form of ad blocker. Combine this with junk mail filters, and it is possible to reduce the noise online.

However, that same study also found that people are more positive about adverts that are relevant to them. But of course, there’s the tradeoff – if I want to say something relevant to you, I need to know more about you. And straight away, we’re back into data brokering territory.

Say you’re on a web page about yoga exercises for beginners. It makes sense that an advert for yoga mats would cause less annoyance than one for car insurance.

But how much more relevant could that advertising be? If I could get your postcode, I could tell you where local yoga classes are. If I knew your age and gender, maybe I could use imagery that you’d respond to better than something generic.

This is where, as a marketer, you might get a bit monkey’s paw about the whole thing, and try to grab as much data as you can. Apparently you can trap a monkey by putting food in a box with a very narrow opening. When it reaches in to grab the food it makes a fist, which won’t fit back through the opening. The monkey won’t release the food because, you know, food. So, it’s trapped. Silly, greedy monkey. But that’s the nature of the trap, and trust is at stake.

Back to social media, and Facebook in particular. What started out as a way to connect Ivy League school students, has exploded into a global community where over 2 billion people lead a good portion of their lives.

After nearly 15 years of rapid growth, people are now consciously cutting back on their use of the platform, if not quitting altogether. It wasn’t long ago that the #DeleteFacebook hashtag was doing the rounds.

Why? Apart from a realisation that Facebook (along with all the other social media channels) is a monumental time sink, well publicised breaches of trust – such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal – have not only caused people to re-evaluate both the amount of personal, identifying data Facebook collects and stores, but also how it’s being used.

At some point a threshold has been crossed, where harmless suggestions of groups and events you might be interested in has crossed over into an uncomfortable place where you feel like your privacy is being exploited for financial and political shenanigans. And even Facebook themselves don’t seem to have a firm grasp on the sheer scale of the situation. None of this is conducive to trust, and a loss of trust is a dealbreaker in most relationships.

OK, so let’s assume your company isn’t Facebook, and you don’t have to try and regain the trust you’ve lost with your customers. How can you foster a digital relationship with people in a way where everyone feels like they’re winning?

Here are my top tips for gaining trust with your audience:

1. Be honest

Person in spiderman costumeMaybe I’m saying this because I loathe it, but don’t do clickbait. I’ve clicked on enough headlines like “Everything you need to know about the next Spider-Man movie”, only for the article to state the obvious that nobody knows anything about the next Spider-Man movie, that I never fall for anything that even remotely looks like it’ll disappoint (Suicide Squad 2, I’m looking at you).

2. Be transparent

Honesty extends to how much you tell people about what they’ll be getting in return for their sweet sweet email address. People judge the worth of the data they hand over against the value of what they get in return. Data as currency in a literal sense.

  • A newsletter containing relevant information, for my email address? OK, sounds fair.
  • A newsletter containing irrelevant information, for my email address? Thanks, but no thanks.
  • A newsletter containing relevant information with a side order of unsolicited emails from third parties, for my email address? Do you seriously think I’ll agree to this?

If you liken your personal data to money, you will obviously think twice if you know that you’re essentially paying to be harassed.

3. Show restraint

Japanese macaque monkeyHere’s Monkey. Monkey was greedy and got his hand stuck in a trap. Don’t be like Monkey.

Your newsletter sign-up form might seem like an ideal opportunity to survey your visitor about their favourite colour, but asking for extraneous nuggets has consequences:

  • People see a form that’s longer than they expect, and leave. The benefit doesn’t seem worth the effort.
  • If “What’s your favourite colour?” happens to be a question your bank asks when you call, you’d be right to be suspicious about why it’s needed to subscribe to a newsletter about yoga (unless you’re transparent and disclose that it’s for market research about yoga mats, then make it optional).
  • You’ve probably heard of GDPR. If you have, then you’ll know that the EU’s data privacy regulations prohibit the collection of data that isn’t “adequate, relevant, and limited” to the matter at hand. This means having a data minimalist mindset, and resisting temptation.

I know GDPR compliance can be a pain, but it can work in your favour by providing a framework that’ll help you engender trust with your audience.

4. Keep your promises

The temptation to say whatever it takes to get what you need can be strong. But failing to deliver on promises is the very definition of a violation of trust.

Sometimes this is more than a challenge of marketing – if the only way you can find to inspire and motivate people to engage with you is to exaggerate or downright mislead, there’s probably an issue with your proposition.

That’s why your digital, marketing and organisational strategies must be aligned, so that none of them need to be compromised in pursuit of the others.

5. Be a platform for your advocates

Customer testimonials are like gold dust. If you are able get positive reviews and soundbites from satisfied punters, in a transparent, unbiased way, those can be as valuable in evoking trust as the most honest, well written bit of marketing.

Only ever buy items from Amazon with an average of at least 4 stars from a decent number of reviewers? Me too.

6. Be secure

An aspect I haven’t touched on, but is crucial to maintaining trust, is preventing data breaches. Facebook (them again) lost over 100 million users’ data in 2018, Twitter 330 million. Ironically, Aadhaar, an Indian data and security company, accidentally left the details of 1.1 billion people at the pub…awkward.

You probably wouldn’t be surprised that, according to a survey conducted by IBM, three-quarters of us won’t buy a product from a company we don’t trust with our data, regardless of how good that product is.

Getting security firmly embedded in your infrastructure and development processes is pretty much non-negotiable, especially when handling personal data. Once data is lost, there’s no getting it back.

A bit like trust.


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