August 17, 2018

The new currency of trust

Joe is a technology journalist who writes for The Telegraph, The Mail and This is Money

Smart Platform blog
We humans are better than we think at picking out who to trust. Crows feet tell us smiles are genuine. Pursed lips or folded arms tell us that something is amiss. Everyday interactions are littered with little clues to tell us who is on our side, and who isn’t. More often than not, our assessments are accurate.

How to pick who to trust?

Research by David DeSteno at Northeastern University confirms our gut instinct. In an experiment, participants picked up on a series of non-spoken trust signals deducing how trustworthy their partners would be in a game. Smiling, leaning forward, crossing arms and touching of the face all suggested positive or negative trust values.  As the paper explained “exposure to nonverbal information increased accuracy in assessing the trustworthiness of another person by approximately 37%.”

What was even more fascinating is that when a robot was programmed to carry these same features, participants would judge the robot to be trustworthy, even though they knew they were speaking to a machine. The results pose an interesting question: if machines can mimic trustworthy body language, how do we know who to trust?

Significant shifts in recent years have led to fewer and fewer face-to-face interactions. We used to buy tickets from a kiosk. Now we use machines or websites to top up our transport cards. We used to have our shopping scanned by an attendant. Now we use self service checkouts at the supermarket. We used to go into our banks and speak in person with a financial adviser, now we invest online. We are having to learn a new language of trust.

New trust signals?

Consider banking. People are visiting their bank branches less and less, preferring to bank online. Indeed, with the advent of Apple Pay and other services, customers can not only pay faster, they can track their purchases more accurately. The trade-off is fewer in-person interactions. Increasingly consumers find trust in a strong brand, watertight computer systems and transparency.

Reliability is important, particularly for something as personal as money. The embarrassment of a debit card not working when you are buying lunch in front of your colleagues is an experience most do not want to repeat. A challenger brand can only make mistakes like this limited times before they become overlooked. Monzo is better than most, writing transparent blogs to explain gaps in their service.  It is a move that makes them much more human and much more trusted.

When things do go wrong, communication and customer service play a significant role. Many agile financial technology companies build strong trust-based relationships due to their communication with consumers but struggle to provide customer service resource at crucial moments. Operator response times, whether chat bots or people is a major trust signal. Website company Wix found that vendors using their on-page chatbot had a significant increase in sales. Accessibility and responsivity are key.

Security is also vital. The padlock symbol, HTTPS protocol and good design on both websites and apps give consumers faith that their data is safe.

The stock of a brand can plummet when consumer data isn’t protected. Consider TalkTalk. Consider Yahoo. With increasingly stringent data protection laws developing worldwide, most noticeably GDPR in Europe, this trend is only set to continue.

Finally, social proof carries just as strongly from the physical world to the internet. Having someone vouch for you, whether a mutual contact or a national newspaper is a sign of significant authority. Just take a look how FinTech freelancer app Coconut proudly display their media coverage online.

You will notice that the new trust signals look rather familiar. Many are not new, merely refined for a digital age. Consumers and companies should work this this in mind. The old rules apply to new platforms.

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