Building trust, and specifically digital trust, has been an ongoing challenge for many organisations. In certain companies, employees feel like they are not trusted, as highlighted by the historic reluctance of some organisations to allow employees to work from home. Recent events have forced many organisations to take bold action in this area, but they are still undermining the trust they have in employees via the use of software to monitor employees’ every keystroke when ‘on the clock’.
Unfortunately there are also many company cultures when employees lack trust in those above them, feeling that decisions are being made in dark rooms without any consultation across the workforce. This mistrust may even extend to colleagues, especially in high pressure or competitive environments, where the temptation to throw your colleague to the lions to protect yourself can be overwhelming. It’s a significant issue faced in organisations across all sectors and industries, and while organisations have been making efforts to resolve this in the daily running of the business, the evolution of the business world has meant new areas of trust are needed, and one in particular is digital trust. This is particularly relevant today as so many people are operating remotely and may only ever interact with peers, superiors, and customers via digital means. However, it’s important to remember that digital trust extends from not only business leaders to their employees, but also from the business to their customers and across all these groups as well; building and maintaining a strong sense of digital trust is crucial in all aspects of an organisation’s operations.
Some organisations are viewed as highly trustworthy in the digital realm, but arguably this is not the majority, and even those who are considered trustworthy sometimes fall short of the expectations held about them. Part of the challenge is that many organisations were not adequately equipped to join the digital revolution that has occurred, and as a result their processes and presence in the digital sphere is not as sophisticated as it needs to be. It is often assumed that those who operate in the technology and digital industry are the ones that can be trusted, but as the historical hacks on Sony and other tech giants have demonstrated, this is not always the case. These incidents badly damaged the reputation and level of trust held by consumers of these brands, which was compounded by the fact they are at the forefront of technology and therefore should have been better prepared.
However, digital trust goes beyond the issue of hackability of a company; it also incorporates the day to day dealings between customers and the organisation. With a growing number of transactions are now completed online, especially in the current circumstances, enabling a faster rate of service, this convenience brings with it several challenges. Foremost is the fact that digital services present a barrier to trust simply because the individual cannot connect properly with the person serving them on the other side. In truth you have no idea who you are dealing with and whether they are a legitimate representative of the company, or whether the company itself is even real. While these issues certainly were, and are, present in the physical domain, it’s much easier for people to hide in the digital world and misrepresent themselves. It is for this reason that ‘phishing’ scams are so successful, and with most people aware of the potential risks from such scams, they are understandably wary of sharing too much online.
So how can organisations not only build, but maintain digital trust, within and outside of their business? There are many elements involved in answering such a broad question, but below we look at some key issues – Communication, Digital Competence, and the Wider Context.
This is arguably one of the most important aspects, as it tends to be miscommunication that most commonly impacts trust, whether it is intentional or not, yet it is a relatively simple one to address. Within the heading of communication there are a few sub-layers that can be explored including:
Transparency about the business
Feeling as if something is being hidden is the absolute biggest killer of trust, so being transparent about the digital element of your company will be essential. This applies not only to customers directly, but also to staff, who may act as a link between you and your customer. There are obviously certain things that cannot be shared, but where possible be open and honest about what is occurring, both good and bad. It is always preferable to hear it directly rather than people hearing it from third parties down the line – this only leads to people wondering what else you have to hide.
Proactively sharing helpful information
While the data a customer shares with you may be completely safe, data they share with others may not be. Unfortunately, even if they are affected by an incident that has nothing to do with you, odds are that if something negative happens in the digital sphere, they will transfer their mistrust to you and will be reticent to share their details in the future. By offering helpful advice and information you can help people protect their data upfront, maintaining their digital trust overall.
Communicating the reason behind data requests
Generally people are so used to sharing basic information such as their name and email address, that few query it. However, if you are requesting information from a customer it is always advisable to be explicit about what the information will be used for. Due to the stricter rules around GDPR this is becoming common practice, and while some may not care what you want or use the information for, others certainly will. The simple act of adhering to what you said in your notification, will demonstrate further that yours is a company that can be trusted. This will be especially important if you are requesting information above and beyond the norm.
It may sound simple, but if you want to gain and maintain the trust of your customers, employees and other stakeholders in the digital environment, you need to be worthy of that trust. Typically, that means ensuring you have all the necessary mechanism in place to protect the data of interested parties. Anyone who aspires to reach success in the digital market needs to invest heavily in securing not only its own assets, but that of its consumers and stakeholders, even if it is only high-level data. All organisations should aim to be at the very forefront of technology in terms of cyber security and invest continually to stay that way.
Following on from this it is also important to make sure people are aware of this fact. If you are investing in technology to keep your customers safe online, ensure they know about it. Not only will this give them the confidence to work with you, it will contribute significantly to their positive perception of your organisation overall.
The wider market and relevant news
Something else to be mindful of when looking to develop and ensure digital trust in and across your business, is the impact of what is going on in the wider market. Have cyber-attacks occurred in similar companies, is there a notable risk of data being breached in general, and what do people perceive this to mean? These are all important factors to be aware of when looking to present yourself as digitally trustworthy; as mentioned earlier, people will quickly transfer their mistrust of one company and apply it readily across the board. Being conscious of this will allow for proactive steps to be taken, to reassure your customers and stakeholders that you are effectively managing your digital environment.
With so many organisations scrambling to deliver the smoothest and most engaging digital experience, digital trust needs to be part of the equation. It is something that needs to be considered in line with the overall strategy of the business, but also considering the nuances presented in this context such as how to demonstrate your credibility, and how to keep your customers safe when they interact with you. Without working to establish a firm level of digital trust with your customers, employees and all other relevant stakeholders, you risk not only your reputation, but also the growth of the company, as even a small blip could have a huge impact in our increasingly digital world.