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In a digital world, let customer trust be a differentiator

People have historically put their faith and assets in large institutions because there weren’t many other options. Banks held our money, schools held our knowledge, and the government held pretty exclusive control over both.

Yet today, technology has undoubtedly shifted our concept of trust. In an era of search engines and blockchain currencies, much of the assurance we used to get from established institutions we now rely on each other for. Think about the last time you ordered a ride on Uber, booked an apartment on Airbnb, or scanned reviews on Yelp before trying a new restaurant. These apps, and the marketplaces they thrive on, are “mechanisms for us to trust new people and ideas,” said Rachel Botsman—expert and author on trust in the modern world—in one of her TED Talks.

Botsman says trust has fueled a lot of 21st-century industry disruption and has created a system of reciprocal trust. While it’s still important for customers to trust your business, marketplaces have emerged that also require businesses to trust customers, businesses to trust each other, and for customers to trust one another. Consider a site like eBay, or ratings systems on Yelp or Glassdoor, which have increased the need for accountability on the part of businesses. Likewise, customers are also being held more accountable by companies when they are rated on apps like Uber or Airbnb.

[Read also: The psychology of rating: it’s hard, but better, to be honest]

According to Deloitte, digital records that track how well an interaction went has led to a “codification of reputation and trustworthiness.” This means that if people can’t trust your company, it can have a major impact on future transactions. This is also reflected in the "2019 Customer Experience Trends" report from Zendesk, where 46 percent of customers reported they had higher expectations for customer service—a rise in expectations that correlates to an almost 3 percent drop in customer satisfaction ratings globally. Interpreted one way: As trust becomes an increasingly valuable commodity, accountability for offering a good experience increases. While customer service has become a necessary and ubiquitous function for any business to perform,

Uplevel your business

It’s not that businesses don’t want to meet expectations and build customer trust. It’s more that it’s complicated, and the tools that we rely on to support us often fall short. Gartner’s 2018 "Market Trends: Customer Experience, Trust and Retention Define Opportunities for Customer Management Digital Services" report found that 1 in 3 customer management (CM) business processing service contracts (BPS) are cancelled annually. Some of the reasons Gartner found for this high cancellation rate includes vendors providing unstable tools that couldn’t live up to service level agreements, companies implementing new technologies internally, and products that lacked improvements.

It's not that businesses don't want to meet expectations and build customer trust. It's more that it's complicated, and the tools that we rely on to support us often fall short.

The same report found that the top three factors that companies consider when evaluating CM solutions are the impact on customer experience (CX), customer trust, and customer loyalty. Surprisingly, reducing costs was only the eighth most important factor.

[Read also: Simple and sophisticated: the "mullet" imperative of seamless CX]

This indicates that businesses are looking for systems designed to manage relationships with customers because they know that customer support is no longer just a cost that a business must bear; customer support can actually be a revenue-generating center of your organization. Central to this is having a record of customer interactions and a mechanism for capturing feedback.

Ben Collet, senior director of customer advocacy at Zendesk, has worked in the CRM industry for more than 20 years and has held nearly every customer service job imaginable. Collet is adamant that if companies can see changes in market landscapes as an opportunity to improve their own product or service, customer trust will grow as customers realize that your business cares about staying up-to-date with market trends.


“Your customers are constantly changing, your product is constantly changing... So even if you're listening to your customers, it's like you're listening through a door and you can't hear quite everything,” Collet said. To underscore the importance of the feedback that customer support agents gain, he offered: “I see advocacy as the last 10% of product development, and ultimately it is our job to try and drive maximum harmony between our CX and our products.”

Creating this kind of harmonious feedback loop can be a huge competitive advantage for companies that may be competing very closely within their space. If customers can trust that your organization is continually improving and striving to provide the best service possible, then that effort can translate into loyal customers who champion your product above others.

[Read also: "Let me tell you where I got this"—the power of the brand ambassador]

Customer trust as your growth engine

Technology advancements will force businesses to continue evolving. These fast changes can create both opportunities and missteps when it comes to earning, or losing, customer trust. But if your business strives to provide good, consistent, easy experiences, then

"Your customers are constantly changing, your product is constantly changing… So even if you're listening to your customers, it's like you're listening through a door and you can't hear quite everything." - Ben Collet

Every business needs to ensure that the basics are figured out—deliveries arrive on time, products work as they should, and there is a competent and efficient support center available to help with any problems or questions. For Collet, a big part of this is making sure that your company has self-service in place. “Self-service went from a deflection technique to being a part of an ‘effortless experience,’” he said. “It’s about increasing reach and getting advocates into content creation roles.”

Collet sees this “knowledge base revolution” as the next era of the support industry. In the future, he even expects more content to produced by customers themselves, as more platforms allow for community-based forums.

Once customers feel assured they are getting what they paid for, companies can continue to refine and build on the customer experience. But first, foundational to that great customer experience, is trust—the building block of a successful business.