We choose our friends, but not our family. We’ve all heard that one before.
Whether you love or hate the people you’re related to, the fact remains that you share genetic information with them. Our DNA, a string of 23 pairs of chromosomes, binds us to our relatives through a shared past, present, and future. So if that makes you want to cry, go ahead and get out your tissues.
But it’s not just our relatives we’re genetically tied to. We’re pretty much all bound to one another. And without the entire intricate web of human relationships that came before us, we’re missing an important part of our own personal biology. As Brad Kittredge, former VP of Product at 23andMe explained it at Relate Live San Francisco, we are each a culmination of an astounding number of people and relationships.
We are family. Get up ev’rybody and sing.
Consider all the relationships that came before us. When and where our ancestors lived has some bearing on our appearance and health, just as the relationships we each make today will leave their traces on future generations. But just how much DNA do we all share?
The math begins easy. You share 50 percent of your DNA with your parents and 25 percent with your grandparents. Then the numbers get a bit trickier. You share 12.5 percent of your DNA with your eight great grandparents and, by the time you go back to your sixth grandparents (of which you have 256), you only share 0.39 percent. Confused yet? That’s a lot of people to be genetically connected with.
Genetic research suggests that within the past 1,500 years, any two Europeans likely shared an ancestor, said Kittredge. That means, if you’re of European descent, anyone with your same ethnicity would be, at most, your 50th cousin. It’s something that writer Guy Murchie asserted decades ago when he made an accurate guesstimate in his book The Seven Mysteries of Life that “no human being (of any race) can be less closely related to any other human than approximately fiftieth cousin, and most of us (no matter what color our neighbors) are a lot closer.”
This concept of relatedness presents an interesting lens through which to view the world. Kittredge posed this question: “What if you looked at every stranger as part of your family?”
This concept of relatedness presents an interesting lens through which to view the world. “What if you looked at every stranger as part of your family?”
Would that alter your worldview? Your behavior?
Genetics and trust
As much as we might eschew our relationships with blood relatives, or skip a family dinner in favor of a ‘Friendsgiving’, it is our family that we trust most.
“What 23andMe has learned,” Kittredge shared, “is that trust is proportional to relationship intimacy. We trust family and close friends most, so the concept of relatedness is really important.”
It’s not just that we trust our families and close friends more—it’s that we have different levels of trust by relationship and, moreover, are comfortable sharing different types of information according to relatedness. In other words, I might be more willing to show results of an ancestry test with my family than with a coworker, but the results of a test that reveal I’m a carrier of an inherited condition may be too intimate to share with anyone.
That’s why 23andMe surveyed their customers to understand just what they’re willing to share, and with whom. What they learned is that approximately 70 percent of their customers were willing to share ancestry composition with immediate and/or extended family. By contrast, only a little over 20 percent of respondents were willing to share with strangers, even other 23andMe customers. Online friends fared only a little better, at approximately 25 percent.
When it came to genetic health information, 23andMe customers were also far more likely to share their results with immediate or extended family than with acquaintances, online friends, or strangers. But in this case, the numbers were lower. Only 60 percent were willing to share information about their physical traits, carrier status, and general wellness, even with immediate family.
That makes a lot of sense. Ancestry composition is pretty innocuous, but if you learned through DNA analysis that you were a carrier for Cystic Fibrosis, then you might decide to keep that info private—especially as you make big life decisions, like having children. It’s all too easy to imagine the world of a science fiction novel where carriers for certain types of genetic conditions might be banned from having children. And in the very real world we live in, there may be unintended consequences that come in the form of the judgment from friends and family, or potential impact on your health insurance. Suddenly, the ethics become slippery.
Listen to this story from the Relate podcast and find out what happens when getting someone to trust you turns out to be harder that it seems.
The science of trust
It won’t come as a surprise that trust is strongest between two people, not between people and companies. According to John Gottman, author of The Science of Trust, trust isn’t about what we think or believe a person will do. Instead, trust is built from action—people learn to trust you based on what you actually do and how you behave.
Trust is built from action—people learn to trust you based on what you actually do and how you behave.
Mistrust is also based on action. Each time we act selfishly or at someone else’s expense, we build mistrust. We might think of mistrust as making small withdrawals from our trust bank but they’re more like separate accounts, as mistrust accrues in the same way trust does.
Though Gottman’s work focuses heavily on couples in a relationship, many of the principles hold true in business. For better and worse, we have opportunities to build trust and mistrust in nearly every encounter. “In any interaction,” he wrote, “there is the possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from them.” At the root of it, trust is based on acting with the other person’s best interests in mind, even when you disagree.
That’s why 23andMe works to build trust into every conversation, customer interaction, and decision they make. Their business literally runs on customer trust—everything from sending your saliva sample through the mail to opting in to share your test results for genetic research requires trust in the company behind the service.
On your honor: How businesses can earn their trust badge
Consumers trust brands for the same reasons they trust people—for being able to relate in a human way. According to Kittredge, 23andMe works to be transparent, consistent, and to ensure that consumers are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to protecting and sharing their DNA analysis.
Consumers trust brands for the same reasons they trust people—for being able to relate in a human way.
Be human, not robotic. DNA analysis is the result of incredible technology, but while the work may happen in a sterile lab, the company’s brand voice isn’t bereft of personality. 23andMe works to be an approachable brand with fun content—like creating a unique melody from customers’ DNA or sharing customer videos. They have a commitment to speaking in an “authentic, direct, and human” voice. You should be able to, literally, take them at their word.
Always try to do what’s right. Customer trust is built when we consistently do right by our customers—even when it comes at a higher cost to the business. 23andMe works to be transparent and to ensure that consumers retain as much individual control over their accounts and their data as possible. They allow for appropriate oversight for changes in the technology, always in the service of protecting individual preferences. Any opportunities to opt-in to research or to powerful new tools are easy to see and clearly explained. This ends up being mutually beneficial, because when customers trust your brand, they’re more likely to opt-in to donate their data to research and the larger cause—understanding the human genome better.
Create meaningful interactions. Here’s where businesses can dig deep—or deeper. Ask yourself: What are you giving your customer? Are you delivering on your value proposition—sometimes or all the time? Have you thought through each customer touchpoint, not just customer service? Where are the areas you can improve?
Here’s how 23andMe earns customer trust—and how you can, too.
In the end, Kittredge explained, trust needs to be open-ended and reaffirmed on a daily basis, at each customer touchpoint. With every interaction, your business has an opportunity to connect with the customer and make small deposits into your trust bank. Even the rockiest of customer interactions offers a chance to take action and to turn things around.
Suzanne Barnecut is a content marketer for Zendesk and a frequent contributor to Relate. Fascinated by technology, but a diehard reader of paper-made books and sender of snail mail. Find her on Twitter: @elisesuz.