A couple of years ago, while engaged in conversion rate optimization (CRO) for a major wireless company, I became very interested in how trust and brand perception related to strategy. As I observed, it became increasingly clear to me that understanding consumer trust in a product or service is a crucial component that we were missing.
In my opinion, the perception of trust can be centered around any touchpoint, product, or service, which makes me think about my Lincoln. If I were to consider purchasing another Lincoln in the future, I would trust that the new Lincoln would be a vehicle of similar quality to my current Lincoln. This is based on my experience with the brand, and my assumption that quality is a trait they will continue to focus on in the future.
On the flip side, however, I have a very different opinion regarding their customer service towards existing customers.
When I purchased my Lincoln, I also purchased a three year maintenance package so I wouldn’t have to worry about oil changes, detailing, etc. After three service visits, I received a notice that I only had one service appointment remaining. I thought to myself - that can’t be right, I paid for three years of service!
Long story short, someone had made a slight computer error, and Lincoln's maintenance staff ultimately told me that since so much time had passed since I purchased my vehicle, the policy could not be reinstated. As I said previously, I trust Lincoln to build quality vehicles, however, I now have little faith in how their representatives will take care of me after the sale.
In retrospect, I pose these questions:
What if my Lincoln had malfunctioned and the subsequent interaction was a truly positive experience? How might my level of trust in Lincoln as a brand differ, and would it necessarily be better or worse?
Don't Replace Common Sense With Data
I have often witnessed that in striving for accuracy, smart people can use data to the point where it gets in the way of experience and common sense. I get it though, it is very difficult to push dynamic changes to any organization, especially without hard numbers (ROI) to back up every claim. However, if you look around at the best agencies, that’s exactly what they do.
Ponder the following scenario.
My wireless client decided that they could reduce costs by either eliminating or reducing the prominence of their phone number from service pages and throughout their sales funnel. The idea was that if an online customer called in, it would cost them around $7 more per call than if the customer self-served or completed their transaction online. The company wouldn't let us test this, however, I made an important observation following the implementation of this change.
The ROI from making it more difficult to find the contact information was realized, however, at what cost? Not having a test environment in place to monitor these behaviors made it very difficult to attribute decreasing conversion rates to that decision. In thinking about my trust hypothesis, I kept coming back to the same notion: if we had been able to test this, could our findings be linked somehow to trust? Could just having the number available and prominent relieve anxiety and improve perceptions, thus improving online conversions?
So what does this all amount to?
I remember reading a case study awhile back about creating a customer-centric culture. The lesson was in the word culture. The company (a pest control company – no names please) hired a consulting firm that basically told them, your customer service sucks and your customers are leaving because they don’t trust you.
Customer service and brand trust starts and ends with every employee interaction, even the interactions your customers don’t see. Over time, the company reinvented its culture and trained customer obsession from the top down, and that investment was returned tenfold.
It’s no surprise that here at DO, I want to incorporate trust into my CRO strategy. The theory is that the business impact of trust, mainly how customers perceive one brand over another, may have even more of an impact on ecommerce than in retail.
Just think about it - the best value messaging in the world means nothing if a customer perceives a business as untrustworthy prior to reading it. On the other hand, human interaction can change a poor perception in the blink of an eye (literally) and actually communicate that same value proposition in a single interaction.
Companies competing online have less opportunities to make up for a poor perception; touchpoints usually occur after a customer feels mistreated in some way by the company, and consequently reaches out for help. Ecommerce businesses need to learn to welcome these touchpoints and take advantage of them as opportunities to win customers for life.
From a CRO perspective, my goal is to translate trust into strategy. I understand trust is not a quantitative success metric you can just pop into a spreadsheet, however, I like to think about how my hypotheses, tests, and key performance indicators (KPIs) impact the way customers view brands (products, services and interactions). Behavioral data can be used to lead us to places where brand trust can be identified, and we can also create segments and use alternate metrics to specifically track these behaviors.
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